US warplanes ‘bomb’ Great Barrier Reef in training exercise

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Two US fighter jets dropped four unarmed bombs in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park when a training exercise went wrong, it has emerged.

The two AV-8B Harrier jets launched from aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard each jettisoned an inert bomb and an unarmed explosive bomb in the World Heritage-listed marine park off the coast of Queensland state last Tuesday, the US 7th Fleet said.

The bombs were dropped in 50 metres (164ft) of water away from coral to minimise possible damage to the reef. None exploded.

The jets from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit had intended to drop the ordnances on the Townshend Island bombing range, but aborted the mission when controllers reported the area was not clear of hazards.

The pilots conducted the emergency jettison because they were low on fuel and could not land with their bomb load, the navy said. The emergency happened on the second day of the biennial joint training exercise Talisman Sabre, which brings together 28,000 US and Australian military personnel over three weeks.