Palomares hydrogen bombs incident

Palomares hydrogen bombs incident

Infobox Aircraft incident

caption = The B28RI nuclear bomb, recovered from 2,850 feet (869 m) of water, on the deck of the USS "Petrel".
date = January 17, 1966
type = Mid-air collision
site = over the Mediterranean Sea
total_fatalities = 7
total_survivors =
plane1_type = B-52G
plane1_operator = United States Air Force
plane1_crew =
plane1_fatalities = 3
plane1_survivors = 4
plane2_type = KC-135 Stratotanker
plane2_operator = United States Air Force
plane2_crew = 4
plane2_survivors = 0

The Palomares hydrogen bombs incident occurred on January 17, 1966 when a B-52G bomber of the USAF Strategic Air Command collided with a KC-135 tanker during mid-air refuelling at convert|31000|ft|m|-1 over the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Spain. The KC-135 was completely destroyed when its fuel load ignited, killing all four crew members. The B-52G broke apart, killing three crew members.cite news |last=Hayes |first=Ron |date=January 17, 2007 |title=H-bomb incident crippled pilot's career |publisher=Palm Beach Post |url= |accessdate=2006-05-24]

Of the four Mk28 type hydrogen bombs the B-52G carried, [cite book |first=Randall C. |last=Maydew |title=America's Lost H-Bomb: Palomares, Spain, 1966 |publisher=Sunflower University Press |isbn=978-0897452144] three were found on land near the small fishing village of Palomares in the municipality of Cuevas del Almanzora, Andalucía, Spain. The conventional explosives in two of the weapons were detonated, resulting in the contamination of a convert|2|km2|acre|sp=us|adj=on area by radioactive plutonium. The fourth, which fell into the Mediterranean Sea, was recovered intact after a 2½ month-long search.cite web |last=Long |first=Tony |date=January 17, 2008 |url= |title=Jan. 17, 1966: H-Bombs Rain Down on a Spanish Fishing Village |publisher=WIRED |accessdate=2008-02-16]


The B-52G began its mission from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, carrying four Type B28RI hydrogen bombs. It was dispatched on an airborne alert mission named Operation Chrome Dome, with a flight plan that was to take it across the Atlantic Ocean and Europe, where it would follow the borders of the Soviet Union and finally return home. The lengthy flight required two mid-air refuelings over Spain.

At about 10:30 a.m. on January 17, 1966, while flying at convert|31000|ft|m|-1, the bomber commenced its second aerial refueling with a KC-135 out of Morón Air Base in southern Spain. The B-52 pilot, Major Larry G. Messinger, later recalled,cite web
last=Moran | first=Barbara | date=Fall 2004
title=The Day They Lost the H-bomb—and How They Got It Back
publisher=Invention & Technology

The planes collided, with the nozzle of the refueling boom striking the top of the B-52 fuselage, creating a force sufficient to break the longeron and snap off the left wing,cite book
last=Lewis | first=Flora | year=1967
title=One of Our H-Bombs is Missing
publisher=McGraw-Hill | oclc=784834
] which resulted in an explosion that was witnessed by a second B-52 about a mile away. All four men on the KC-135 and three men on the bomber were killed.

Those killed in the tanker were boom operator Master Sergeant Lloyd Potolicchio, pilot Major Emil J. Chapla, copilot Captain Paul R. Lane and navigator Captain Leo E. Simmons.

On board the bomber, navigator First Lieutenant Steven G. Montanus, electronic warfare officer First Lieutenant George J. Glessner and gunner Technical Sergeant Ronald P. Snyder were killed.cite web
last=Megara | first=John
title=Dropping Nuclear Bombs on Spain, The Palomares Accident of 1966 and the U.S. Airborne Alert
publisher=Florida State University
] Montanus was seated on the lower deck of the main cockpit and was able to eject from the plane, but his parachute never opened. Glessner and Snyder were on the upper deck, near the point where the refueling boom struck the fuselage, and were not able to eject.

Four of the seven crew members of the bomber managed to parachute to safety: Major Messinger, aircraft commander Captain Charles F. Wendorf, copilot First Lieutenant Michael J. Rooney and radar-navigator Captain Ivens Buchanan. [cite web
author=Staff | year=2003
title=Broken Arrow | publisher=National Atomic Museum
] Buchanan received burns from the explosion and was unable to separate himself from his ejection seat, but he was nevertheless able to open his parachute, and he survived the impact with the ground. The other three surviving crew members landed safely several miles out to sea.

The Palomares residents carried Buchanan to a local clinic, while Wendorf and Rooney were picked up at sea by the fishing boat "Dorita". The last to be rescued was Messinger, who spent 45 minutes in the water before he was brought aboard the fishing boat "Agustin y Rosa" by Francisco Simó Orts. All three men that landed in the sea were taken to a hospital in Aquilas.

Three of the hydrogen bombs fell to earth near the fishing village of Palomares. This settlement is part of Cuevas del Almanzora municipality, in the Almeria province of Andalucía, Spain. All three weapons were located within 24 hours following the accident. The fourth weapon landed in the Mediterranean sea.

The fourth bomb

The search for the fourth bomb was carried out by means of a novel mathematical method, Bayesian search theory, led by Dr. John Craven. This method assigns probabilities to individual map grid squares, then updates these as the search progresses. Initial probability input is required for the grid squares, and these probabilities made use of the fact that a local fisherman, Francisco Simó Orts, popularly known since then as "Paco el de la bomba" ("Bomb Frankie"), [cite news
author=Staff | date=August 9, 2003
title=Francisco Simó, 'Paco el de la bomba' de Palomares
publisher=El País | language=Spanish
] witnessed the bomb entering the water at a certain location. Orts was contacted by the U.S. Air Force to assist in the search operation.

The United States Navy assembled the following ships in response to Air Force request for assistance: [Melson, June 1967, pp.26-39]
* USS Kiowa (ATF-12) first on-scene
* USS Macdonough (DDG-39) flagship through January
* USS Nimble (MSO-459)
* USS Pinnacle (MSO-462) found UQS-1 SONAR contact where Francisco Simo-Orts saw the bomb fall
* USS Sagacity (MSO-469) confirmed "Pinnacle"s SONAR contact
* USS Skill (MSO-471)
* USS Nespelon (AOG-55)
* USS Fort Snelling (LSD-30) served as a support ship for the submersibles
* USS Boston (CAG-1) flagship February through April
* USS Plymouth Rock (LSD-29) transported Aluminaut and Alvin to the search site
* USS Petrel (ASR-14)
* USS Tringa (ASR-16)
* USS Hoist (ARS-40)
* USNS Mizar (AGOR-11)
* USNS Dutton (T-AGS-22)
* DSV Alvin
* Aluminaut
* PC-3B (Ocean Systems, Inc. submersible capable of searching to 600 feet)
* Deep Jeep (a Navy submersible capable of diving to 2000 feet)
* CURV (Cable-Controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle)
* USS Luiseno (ATF-156) removed aircraft wreck debris from the search site
* USS Everglades (AD-24) removed aircraft wreck debris from the search site
* USNS Lt. George W. G. Boyce removed radioactive contaminated soil from Spain

"Hoist", "Petrel" and "Tringa" brought 150 qualified divers who searched to 120 feet with compressed air, to 210 feet with mixed gas, and to 350 feet with hard-hat rigs; [Melson, June 1967, p.37] but the bomb lay in an uncharted area of the Rio Almanazora canyon on a 70-degree slope at a depth of 2550 feet. [Melson, June 1967, p.37] After a search that continued for 80 days following the crash, the bomb was located by the DSV "Alvin" on March 17th. The bomb was lost again on the first attempt to bring it to the surface, and fell to a depth of 2800 feet. [Melson, June 1967, pp.38-39] The bomb was brought to the surface by USS "Petrel" (ASR-14). While serving on the salvage ship USS "Hoist" (ARS-40) during recovery operations, Navy diver Carl Brashear had his leg crushed in a deck accident. His story was the inspiration for the 2000 Cuba Gooding, Jr. film "Men of Honor". [cite news
last=Dorsey | first=Jack | coauthors=Washington, Jim
date=July 26, 2006
title=Pioneering Navy diver Carl Brashear dies in Portsmouth
publisher=The Virginian-Pilot

Once the bomb had been located, Simó Orts appeared at the First District Federal Court building in New York City with his lawyer, Herbert Brownell, formerly Attorney General of the United States under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, claiming salvage rights on the recovered hydrogen bomb. According to Craven: [cite book
last=Craven | first=John Piña | title=The Silent War
publisher=Simon and Schuster | date=2001
pages=pp. 174-175 | isbn=978-0684872131

The Air Force settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.


At 10:40 a.m. UTC, the accident was reported at the16th Air Force Command Post, and it was confirmed at 11:22.The commander of the U.S. Air Force at Torrejon air base, Spain, Major General Delmar E. Wilson, immediately travelled to the scene of the accident with aDisaster Control Team. Further Air Force personnel were dispatched later the same day, including nuclear experts from U.S. government laboratories. [cite book
first=James C. | last=Oskins | coauthors=Maggelet, Michael H.
title=Broken Arrow - The Declassified History of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Accidents
year=2008 | | isbn=1435703618

The first weapon to be discovered was found nearly intact. However, the conventional explosives from the other two bombs that fell on land detonated (essentially what has come to be referred to as a dirty bomb), causing contamination with uranium and plutonium of convert|2|km2|sqmi|1 of land. convert|1750|ST|t|lk=on of contaminated material were excavated and sent for disposal at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina, USA.

To defuse alarm of contamination, the Spanish minister for information and tourism Manuel Fraga and the US ambassador Angier Biddle Duke swam on nearby beaches in front of press. First the ambassador and some companions swam at Mojácar (a resort convert|15|km|mi|0|abbr=on away) and then Duke and Fraga swam at the Quitapellejos beach in Palomares.

Recent events

In 2004, a study revealed that there was still some significant contamination present in certain areas, and the Spanish government subsequently expropriated some plots of land which would otherwise have been slated for agriculture use or housing construction. [cite news
last=Bejarano | first=José
title=La maldición de Palomares | language=Spanish
publisher=La Vanguardia
date=November 19, 2004
] In early October 2006, the Spanish and United States governments agreed to decontaminate the remaining areas and share the workload and costs, which are hitherto unknown as it first needs to be determined to what extent leaching of the plutonium has occurred in the 40 years since the incident.

On October 11, 2006, Reuters reported that higher than normal levels of radiation were detected in snails and other wildlife in the region, indicating there may still be dangerous amounts of radioactive material underground. The discovery occurred during an investigation being carried out by Spain's energy research agency CIEMAT and the U.S. Department of Energy. The U.S. and Spain have agreed to share the cost of the initial investigation, set to begin in November, but according to a U.S. embassy spokesman in Spain responsibility for clean up costs is yet to be agreed upon.

In April 2008, CIEMAT announced they had found two trenches, totalling 2,000 cubic meters volume, where the U.S. Army stored contaminated earth during the 1966 operations. The American government agreed in 2004 to pay for the decontamination of the grounds, and the cost of the removal and transportation of the contaminated earth has been estimated at $2 million. The trenches were found near the cemetery, where one of the nuclear devices was retrieved in 1966, and they were probably dug at the last moment by American troops before leaving Palomares. CIEMAT expects to find remains of plutonium and americium once an exhaustive analysis of the earth is carried out. [cite news
last=Méndez |first=Rafael
date=April 10, 2008
title=España halla las zanjas radiactivas que EE UU ocultó en Palomares
publisher=El País | language=Spanish
] [cite web
date=April 10, 2008
title=Spain finds trenches of radioactive earth buried at Palomares

Political consequences

Four days after the accident, the Spanish government stated that "the Palomares incident was evidence of the dangers created by NATO's use of the Gibraltar airstrip", announcing that NATO aircraft would no longer be permitted to fly over Spanish territoryeither to or from Gibraltar. [cite news
title=Spain bans overflying by NATO | pages=8a
publisher=The Times | date=January 22, 1966

Palomares and another accident involving nuclear bombers two years later near Thule Air Base, in Greenland, led the U.S. Department of Defense to announce that it would be "re-examining the military need" for continuing the so-called "Airborne Alert Indoctrinal Training Program". [cite news
first=John W. | last=Finney | date=February 28, 1968
title=U.S. Reviews Need for H-Bomb Alert | pages=1
publisher=New York Times

Disposition of intact bombs

The empty casings of two of the bombs involved in this incident are now on display in the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

See also

* B-52 crash at Thule Air Base
* Broken Arrow
* List of military nuclear accidents
* "Aluminaut"—a Deep Submergence Vehicle (DSV) which helped search for 4th bomb
* "Alvin (DSV-2)"—a DSV which helped search and located 4th bomb



*cite book
last=Lewis | first=Flora | year=1987
title=One of Our H-Bombs is Missing
publisher=Bantam | isbn=978-0553264838

*cite book
last=Maggelet | first=Michael H. | coauthors=James C. Oskins
title=Broken Arrow- The Declassified History of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Accidents
year=2008 | publisher=Bantam | isbn=978-1-4357-0361-2


External links

*de icon [ n-tv:] Atomkatastrophe von 1966 - USA und Spanien entseuchen. Web posted and retrieved 2006-OCT-8.

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