Nuclear mishaps

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Bombs and Bombers

13 February 1950
A B-36 en route from Alaska to Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas, developed serious mechanical difficulties, complicated by severe icing conditions. The crew headed out over the Pacific Ocean and dropped the nuclear weapons from 8,000 feet off the coast of British Columbia. The weapons’ high-explosive material detonated on impact, but the crew parachuted to safety.

11 April 1950
A B-29 carrying a nuclear weapon crashed into a mountain near Manzano Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, killing all 13 crewmembers aboard.

10 November 1950
A B-50 en route to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, was forced to jettison a nuclear weapon over the St. Lawrence River near St. Alexandre-de-Kamouraska, Canada.

10 March 1956
A B-47 with two nuclear weapons aboard disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea after flying out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. An exhaustive search failed to locate the aircraft, its weapons, nor its crew.

27 July 1956
A U.S. B-47 practicing a touch-and-go landing at Lakenheath Royal Air Force Station near Cambridge, England went out of control and smashed into a storage igloo housing three Mark 6 nuclear bombs, each of which had about 8,000 pounds of TNT in its trigger mechanism. No crewmen were killed, and fire fighters were able to extinguish the blazing jet fuel before it ignited the TNT.

22 May 1957
A 10 megaton hydrogen bomb was accidentally dropped from a bomber in an uninhabited area near Albuquerque, New Mexico owned by the University of New Mexico. The conventional explosives detonated, creating a 12 foot deep crater 25 feet across in which some radiation was detected.

28 July 1957
A C-124 Globemaster transporting three nuclear weapons and a nuclear capsule from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to Europe experienced loss of power in two engines. The crew jettisoned two of the weapons somewhere east of Rehobeth, Del., and Cape May/Wildwood, New Jersey. A search for the weapons was unsuccessful and it is a fair assumption that they still lie at the bottom of the ocean.

11 October 1957
A B-47 carrying a single nuclear weapon crashed shortly after takeoff. The weapon was partially destroyed in the ensuing fire, but the nuclear core was recovered intact.

31 January 1958
Unbeknownst to Moroccan officials, a B-47 loaded with a fully-armed nuclear weapon collapsed and caught fire on the runway at a U.S. Strategic Air Command base 90 miles northeast of Rabat. The Air Force considered evacuating the base, but instead allowed the bomber to continue to burn for seven hours. During cleanup operations a large number of vehicles and aircraft were contaminated with radiation.

5 February 1958
A B-47 carrying a Mark 15, Mod 0, nuclear bomb on a simulated combat mission from Homestead Air Force Base in Florida collided with an F-86. After three unsuccessful attempts to land at Hunter Air Force Base in Georgia, the B-47 crew jettisoned the nuclear bomb into the Atlantic Ocean off Savannah. The Air Force conducted a nine-week search of a 3-square-mile area in Wassaw Sound where the bomb was dropped, but declared on April 16 that the bomb was irretrievably lost. More details can be read on this Wikipedia article.

11 March 1958
A B-47 on its way from Hunter Air Force Base in Georgia to an overseas base accidentally dropped an unarmed nuclear weapon into the garden of Walter Gregg and his family in Mars Bluff, South Carolina. The conventional explosives detonated, destroying Gregg’s house and injuring six family members. The blast resulted in the formation of a crater 50-70 feet wide and 25-30 feet deep. Five other houses and a church were also damaged; five months later the Air Force paid the Greggs $54,000 in compensation.

4 November 1958
A B-47 carrying a nuclear weapon caught fire and crashed during takeoff from Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas, killing one crew member.

26 November 1958
A B-47 caught fire on the ground at Chennault Air Force Base in Lake Charles, Louisiana, destroying a nuclear weapon onboard, resulting in minor radioactive contamination of the immediate vicinity.

15 October 1959
A B-52 with two nuclear bombs collided in mid-air with a KC-135 jet tanker and crashed near Hardinsberg, Kentucky. Both bombs were recovered intact, but eight crewmembers lost their lives.

7 June 1960
A BOMARC-A nuclear missile burst into flames after its fuel tank was ruptured by the explosion of a high pressure helium tank at McGuire Air Force Base in New Egypt, New Jersey. The missile melted, causing plutonium contamination at the facility and in the ground water below.

21 January 1961
A B-52 bomber carrying one or more nuclear weapons disintegrated in midair following an engine fier and explosion approximately 10 miles north of Monticello, Utah, killing all five crewmembers.

24 January 1961
A B-52 bomber suffered structural failure and disintegrated in mid-air 12 miles north of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, NC, releasing two hydrogen bombs. Five crewmen parachuted to safety, while three others died when the aircraft exploded in mid-air. The bombs jettisoned as the plane descended, one parachuting to earth intact, the other plunging deep into waterlogged farmland. To this day, parts of the nuclear bomb remain embedded deep in the muck. The area is off-limits, and is tested regularly for radiation releases. More information can be found at the Broken Arrow: Goldsboro, NC site at www.ibiblio.org/bomb/.

14 March 1961
A B-52 with nuclear bombs crashed in California while on a training mission.

13 January 1964
A B-52 with two nuclear weapons crashed near Cumberland, Maryland.

8 December 1964
A B-58 slid off a runway at Bunker Hill (now Grissom) Air Force Base in Peru, Indiana. The resulting fire consumed portions of five onboard nuclear weapons, leading to radioactive contamination of the surrounding area.

5 December 1965
An A-4E aircraft accidentally fell overboard off the USS Toconderoga, with the loss of pilot LTJG D.M. Webster and a nuclear weapon. The incident, which occurred in the Pacific Ocean approximately 200 miles east of Okinawa, was not reported by the Department of Defense until 1981.

17 January 1966
A B-52 collided with an Air Force KC-135 jet tanker while refueling over the coast of Spain, killing eight of the eleven crew members and igniting the KC-135’s 40,000 gallons of jet fuel. Two hydrogen bombs ruptured, scattering radioactive particles over the fields of Palomares; a third landed intact near the village of Palomares; the fourth was lost at sea 12 miles off the coast of Palomares and required a search by thousands of men working for three months to recover it. Approximately 1,500 tons of radioactive soil and tomato plants were removed to the U.S. for burial at a nuclear waste dump in Aiken, S.C. The U.S. eventually settled claims by 522 Palomares residents at a cost of $600,000, and gave the town the gift of a $200,000 desalinizing plant.

22 January 1968
A B-52 crashed 7 miles south of Thule Air Force Base in Greenland, scattering the radioactive fragments of three hydrogen bombs over the terrain and dropping one bomb into the sea after a fire broke out in the navigator’s compartment. Contaminated ice and airplane debris were sent back to the U.S., with the bomb fragments going back to the manufacturer in Amarillo, Texas. The incident outraged the people of Denmark (which owned Greenland at the time, and which prohibits nuclear weapons over its territory) and led to massive anti-U.S. demonstrations. One of the warheads was reportedly recovered by Navy Seals and Seabees in 1979, but an August 2000 report suggests that in fact it may still be lying at the bottom of Baffin Bay. Additional details, including footage of the recovery efforts, can be viewed at news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7720049.stm courtesy of the BBC.

2 November 1981
A fully-armed Poseidon missile was accidentally dropped 17 feet from a crane in Scotland during a transfer operation between a U.S. submarine and its mother ship.

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