A properly functioning $40 million Navy Trident test missile was destroyed by mistake last month when a range safety officer incorrectly concluded it was veering out of control, according to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

"There's always someone who doesn't get the word, and in this instance it was the man with his finger on the destruct button," said Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis.Aspin said that although the missile was following the intended flight path after its Sept. 19 launch from the Air Force's Eastern Space and Missile Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., it appeared to the safety officer that it was about to leave the range safety corridor.

Aspin said the missile was "properly functioning" and that the safety officer destroyed it "through what amounted to a misunderstanding."

Vernon Guidry, a spokesman for the Armed Services Committee, said the missile was valued at $40 million.

The incident occurred during the 15th in a series of 19 land-based tests of the missile which is designed to be fired by the U.S. Trident submarine fleet. Aspin said the Air Force is working to prevent a recurrence.

With 15 tests accomplished, the series shows two outright failures and one only partial success, Aspin said. All other flights went as planned.