Tape Nato strike on train shown at three times normal speed

WASHINGTON, Jan 7, 2000 -- (AFP) A videotape of a U.S. missile hitting a commuter train on a railroad bridge in Serbia last April was inadvertently shown to the public at three times normal speed, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed Thursday.

"There was never any intent to deceive or mislead," said Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Vic Warzinski.

The April 12 attack, which destroyed the train and killed at least 14 civilians, was one of the most dramatic cases of "collateral damage" of the 11-week NATO air war.

Captured by a camera in the nose of the missiles that struck the train on the bridge, the videotapes were shown the next day by General Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander, at a NATO press conference in which he explained that the pilot had no time to pull the missile off its target.

Clark said the pilot's attention was focused on an aim point on the bridge "when all of a sudden, at the very last instance, with less than a second to go, he caught a flash of movement that came into a screen and it was the train coming in."

"Unfortunately, he couldn't dump the bomb at that point. It was locked, it was going into the target and it was an unfortunate incident which he and the crew and all of us very much regret," Clark said at the time.

Warzinski, however, confirmed a report in the German daily Frankfurter Rundschau that the videotapes which accompanied Clark's presentation were shown at three times their actual speed, which made the train entering the frame appear to be traveling faster than it really was.

He said that, as is routine, the digitized gun camera footage was compressed and accelerated to run at twice actual speed for quick viewing by intelligence analysts at the combined air operations center in Vicenza, Italy.

In this case, officials said, the computer file was transferred to NATO headquarters in Mons, Belgium without being reset to normal speed.

Timing control data that normally would appear on the file also was lost as it was transferred from one computer platform to another, they said.

In addition, the footage was transmitted over the Internet using software that compressed it a second time by eliminating similar frames, which gives the footage a jerky quality, they said.

They said the fact that the footage was accelerated went unnoticed in Mons where officials were rushing to prepare for Clark's press conference.

"If you look at the race to get all that put together, there aren't a whole lot of people studying this stuff," said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Phillips, a US military spokesman at Mons.

The pilot's view of the bridge was confined to a five-by-five inch monochromic cockpit monitor which blinded him to the train's approach until the last instant, Phillips said.

NATO first became aware that the tape was accelerated in October when a German publication raised questions about it, but has not remove it from its Internet sites because it considered it "part of the historical archive of the air campaign," Warzinski said.

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