BRISBANE, Australia — US fighter jets have dropped four unarmed bombs on the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the jewel in the environmental crown of America's strongest ally in the Asia Pacific.
According to a statement released Saturday by the US 7th Fleet, cited by the Associated Press, the bombing by two AV-8B Harrier jets was part of a training exercise gone wrong.
The jets, from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and launched from aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard, were taking part in Talisman Saber 2013, according to the US Navy's website.
According to the AP, the two jets were meant to drop the bombs on Queensland's Townshend Island bombing range, but aborted the mission when hazards were reported in the area.
Low on fuel and unable to land with their bomb load, the pilots conducted the emergency jettison onto the reef — at more than 1,680 miles long, the world's largest coral structure and rich in marine life.
According to NBC, each bomb weighed 500 pounds, however it is unclear whether any environmental damage was caused.
Talisman Saber 2013 is aimed improving combined operations and also responses to humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters, the AP wrote.
The two-week exercise involves 28,000 US and Australian military forces in land, sea and air maneuvers around northeastern Australia.
A joint investigation by thew US Navy and Marine Corps had been launched.