BAKERSFIELD — An Air Force plane, apparently on a secret mission, crashed and burned in rugged terrain 15 miles northeast of Bakersfield early this morning, killing one crew member and prompting authorities to impose an extraordinary news blackout on the accident.
They declared the crash site and the air space above it "a national security area" out of bounds to the press and public.
Military and civilian officials would say little about the craft that crashed at about 2 a.m. near 4,100-foot-high Saturday Peak on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Air Force spokesmen at the Pentagon and Edwards Air Force Base, about 65 miles to the southeast of the accident, and Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, 210 miles east of the crash site, declined to answer most questions from reporters.
Crash, 1 Death Confirmed
They only confirmed that the plane had crashed and killed one man, whose name they withheld pending notification of the next of kin.
A spokesman at Edwards declined to identify the type of aircraft or to confirm that it was flying from that base.
A Pentagon spokesman would say only that the aircraft was "not a bomber."
Meanwhile, armed airmen set up a security perimeter around the crash site in the Sequoia National Forest, turning back reporters who made their way up logging roads to the area.
'Whole Area Restricted'
A spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff's Department, who said he was "relaying information" from the Air Force, read a statement that said "the whole area has been restricted, including the air space above the crash site."
"There will be military aircraft in the area, and anyone entering the area will be dealt with appropriately by the Air Force," the statement said.
A U.S. Forest Service official said the plane went down in a rugged, isolated area about two miles across a high ridge from the nearest public campsite. He said it was unlikely that anyone had witnessed the crash.
About 100 Forest Service and county firemen fought a 150-acre blaze around the downed plane, containing it at 8 a.m., a Forest Service spokeswoman said.