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Article posted Jan 18 2006, 9:07 AM Category: History Source: Historychannel Print

H-BOMB LOST IN SPAIN: January 17, 1966


On this day, a B-52 bomber collides with KC-135 jet tanker over Spain's Mediterranean coast, dropping three 70-kiloton hydrogen bombs near the town of Palomares and one in the sea. It was not the first or last accident involving American nuclear bombs.

As a means of maintaining first-strike capability during the Cold War, U.S. bombers laden with nuclear weapons circled the earth ceaselessly for decades. In a military operation of this magnitude, it was inevitable that accidents would occur. The Pentagon admits to more than three-dozen accidents in which bombers either crashed or caught fire on the runway, resulting in nuclear contamination from a damaged or destroyed bomb and/or the loss of a nuclear weapon. One of the only "Broken Arrows" to receive widespread publicity occurred on January 17, 1966, when a B-52 bomber crashed into a KC-135 jet tanker over Spain.

The bomber was returning to its North Carolina base following a routine airborne alert mission along the southern route of the Strategic Air Command when it attempted to refuel with a jet tanker. The B-52 collided with the fueling boom of the tanker, ripping the bomber open and igniting the fuel. The KC-135 exploded, killing all four of its crew members, but four members of the seven-man B-52 crew managed to parachute to safety. None of the bombs were armed, but explosive material in two of the bombs that fell to earth exploded upon impact, forming craters and scattering radioactive plutonium over the fields of Palomares. A third bomb landed in a dry riverbed and was recovered relatively intact. The fourth bomb fell into the sea at an unknown location.

Palomares, a remote fishing and farming community, was soon filled with nearly 2,000 U.S. military personnel and Spanish civil guards who rushed to clean up the debris and decontaminate the area. The U.S. personnel took precautions to prevent overexposure to the radiation, but the Spanish workers, who lived in a country that lacked experience with nuclear technology, did not. Eventually some 1,400 tons of radioactive soil and vegetation were shipped to the United States for disposal.

Meanwhile, at sea, 33 U.S. Navy vessels were involved in the search for the lost hydrogen bomb. Using an IBM computer, experts tried to calculate where the bomb might have landed, but the impact area was still too large for an effective search. Finally, an eyewitness account by a Spanish fisherman led the investigators to a one-mile area. On March 15, a submarine spotted the bomb, and on April 7 it was recovered. It was damaged but intact.

Studies on the effects of the nuclear accident on the people of Palomares was limited, but the United States eventually settled some 500 claims by residents whose health was adversely affected. Because the accident happened in a foreign country, it received far more publicity than did the dozen or so similar crashes that occurred within U.S. borders. As a security measure, U.S. authorities do not announce nuclear weapons accidents, and some American citizens may have unknowingly been exposed to radiation that resulted from aircraft crashes and emergency bomb jettisons. Today, two hydrogen bombs and a uranium core lie in yet undetermined locations in the Wassaw Sound off Georgia, in the Puget Sound off Washington, and in swamplands near Goldsboro, North Carolina.





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Comments 21 - 40 of 40 Add Comment < Page of 2
JOHN PINEO

Posted: Jan 31 2013, 8:58 AM

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98217 I WAS IN THE SHIPFITTER SHOP. WE MADE UP A DUMMY BOMB THAT WAS DUE TO BE PUT DOWN IN THE OCEAN FOR A SONAR PING INFO BUT THEY FOUND THE BOMB BEFORE THAT HAPPENED. THE SHIPFITTER SHOP MADE THE THREE PRONG HOOK THAT WAS ATTACHED TO THE "ALVIN" AND THAT IS HOW THEY GOT THE BOMB UP.
Jspgasman@aol.com
WE ALSO LOADED UP THE DAMAGE PLANS ON A BARGE AND DUMPED THEM IN THE OCEAN.
JOHN PINEO

Posted: Jan 31 2013, 9:01 AM

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98217 MY SHIPS NAME WAS USS CASCADE AD16.
PLEASE ADD TO THE INFO ABOVE 98217
Louis M. Mata

Posted: Feb 08 2013, 5:46 PM

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7517 I was there during project recovery. From Day one to the last day. I was on the CBR (Chemical Biologica Radiological) Team. We were stationed at Torrejon AB, Spain. We were all trying to find any and all parts, and taking radiological reading of area of Palomares.
Anonymous

Posted: May 21 2013, 9:31 PM

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74128 UPDATE; The BOMB is now at the National Museum of Nuclear
science and History in Albuquerque, NM,
Address: 601 Eubank SE.
Phone: 505-245-2137
Paul R,Scott,

Posted: May 31 2013, 8:40 PM

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76180 Soup, I know you from the ship. Do you remember Frank Tampone, Jimmy Smith, from NY City?

Yes, it is in Albuquerque,New Nexico. It is located at Kirkland Air Force Base. I saw it when I was teaching at Albuquerque Jr.College (Welding 1-4)
Henry Pieszcynski RM3

Posted: Jun 08 2013, 11:27 AM

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17354 I was on the Cascade during that time, Radioman (RM3) in the radio shack, we did not have enough men, we stood watch on port and starboard. I was on midnight shift the whole time at sea. Also toke care of TPL Locker, (tech pub locker) spent two years on the Cascade
If any one remembers me my e-mail is pieszcynski@verizon.net
Anonymous

Posted: Jun 08 2013, 9:05 PM

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74128 I remember Jimmy Smith from NYC. We use to play Billards,,9-ball, 8 ball etc. I played 8-ball with him on the day he was discharged from the Navy at the Navy YMCA. He was a good friend. Last time I saw him. I wonder how he is doing, well I hope.
Anonymous

Posted: Jun 29 2013, 9:28 PM

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71169 I was on the Cascade from March 27 , 1965 to March 29th 1969
My name is Henry Deluca
I am on facebook
Henry

Posted: Jun 29 2013, 9:34 PM

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71169 I was the baker on board the Cascade and worked for Chief Joint. The Master at Arms was a boatswain mate named Casco..A little guy.
I remember the storm we hit on the way back with that big load.
my email is ohenryd@yahoo.com
Anonymous

Posted: Jul 01 2013, 5:47 PM

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76113 To Paul Scott.
The Bomb is at the National Museum of Nuclear Science. It is no longer at Kirkland Air Force Base. I took my picture with it last Saturday,,June 29 2013. I also left a comment on Jimmy Smith from NYC.Comment 74128.t7
Brewster

Posted: Jul 06 2013, 9:25 PM

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7478 I was USAF working out of the bio-medical engineering tent. Never since have I witnessed so much going on with so many people not knowing it.
Charley

Posted: Oct 30 2013, 12:28 PM

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17211 My dad told me that he was stationed out of Ireland on a Portuguese ship with an non uniformed US Navy compliment. He was in oceanographic looking for the H bomb..

Was this part of the secret recovery?

Anonymous

Posted: Nov 02 2013, 5:17 PM

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7293 the plymouth rock lsd-29 transported the sub but could not tranport the bomb back because it did not have a nuclear clearance to handle it. You can bet on the way back to the states the crew became cleared to handle one next time.
Paul Scott

Posted: Dec 22 2013, 6:04 PM

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76180 HenryDeLuca,
You lived in Brooklyn NY Knickerbocker Park & Jefferson Ave. Do U remember Frank Tampone from E84th & 1st Ave,NY NY

I went home w/ you one weekend from New Port RI or the Boston Shipyards
Robert Beck

Posted: Jun 13 2014, 1:10 AM

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767 I was aboard the USS Cascade AD 16 (Destroyer Tender when it was redirected to Palomares, Spain to help recover an H-Bomb). The bomb was recovered after many attempts using different methods of recovery.
The Navy brought in a mini sub called Alvin which ended up being a very good choice in recovering the bomb. The mission was called {Broken Arrow}. March 1966. SK3.
Robert Beck

Posted: Jun 13 2014, 1:16 AM

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767 For those that were on the USS Cascade AD 16 during operation {Broken Arrow} March 1966. can contact me at: RNP5@EMBARQMAIL.COM I would be glad to hear from you. I hope that all are doing well.
mike finley

Posted: Jul 09 2014, 10:14 AM

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152132 I was stationed with the guy who drove the Assualt craft boat that did most of the recovery. The picture of the assualt craft can still be seen on ebay and is for sale.
rjc ny

Posted: Oct 04 2014, 3:15 PM

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74110 i was in the us army and we ran all cable lines from the bomb site in spain in 1966 to vera spain and no protective gear, i have problems and i will go to the va
Mike Beninda

Posted: Nov 03 2014, 9:00 PM

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7112 I was a E5 FTG on the Cascade during operation broken arrow. I would love to contact anyone who was there at the say time I was. I know live in Greenville SC, and can be reached at mbeninda@outlook .com

Hope everyone is well,
.
Anonymous

Posted: Nov 16 2014, 8:02 PM

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209159 My husband death was the result of this exposure. He started have problems about 10 years after his experience as a member of the EOD team.
Comments 21 - 40 of 40 < Page of 2


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