NEWS

The US lost 4 H-bombs in 1966 and they're still causing damage

Early on the morning of Jan. 16, 1966, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber took off from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.


The bomber headed toward Europe, where it would patrol near the borders of the Soviet Union with four nuclear weapons, part of Operation Chrome Dome, a Cold War program to provide 24-hour rapid-response capabilities in case of war.

During its return to the U.S. the next day, the B-52 was to rendezvous with a KC-135 tanker for refueling over Spain. Capt. Charles Wendorf, the 29-year-old Air Force pilot at the controls of the bomber, asked his staff pilot, Maj. Larry Messinger, to take over as they approached the refueling point.

Just after 10 a.m. on Jan. 17, the planes began their approach at 31,000ft over eastern Spain. Messinger sensed something was amiss.

"We came in behind the tanker, and we were a little bit fast, and we started to overrun him a little bit," Messinger recalled, according to American Heritage magazine.

Side view of YB-52 bomber. (Image courtesy of USAF)

"There is a procedure they have in refueling where, if the boom operator feels that you're getting too close and it's a dangerous situation, he will call, ' breakaway, breakaway, breakaway,'" Messinger said. "There was no call for a breakaway, so we didn't see anything dangerous about the situation, but all of a sudden, all hell seemed to break loose."

The B-52 collided with the tanker. The belly of the KC-135 was torn open, and jet fuel spilled into the tanker and onto the bomber. Explosions ripped through both planes, consuming the tanker and killing all four men aboard. Three men in the tail of the bomber were killed, and the four other crew members ejected.

Capt. Ivens Buchanan, strapped into his ejection seat, was caught in the fireball and burned. He crashed to the ground, but survived. Wendorf's and Lt. Richard Rooney's parachutes opened at 14,000 feet, and they drifted out to sea where fishermen rescued them.

Messinger hit his head during ejection. "I opened my parachute. Well, I shouldn't have done that. I should have freefalled and the parachute would open automatically at 14,000 feet," he said. "But I opened mine anyway, because of the fact that I got hit in the head, I imagine." He drifted eight miles out to sea, where he was also picked up by fishermen.

A Spanish fisherman 5 miles offshore at the time reported seeing the explosion and the rain of debris. He then saw five parachutes — three with surviving crew members from the bomber; two others carrying "half a man, with his guts trailing," and a "dead man."

Soon after, on the ground in Spain, officers at Air Force bases scrambled to pack the troops they could find — cooks, clerks, and musicians — into buses to head toward Palomares, a coastal farming village in southeast Spain.

"It was just chaos," John Garman, then a military police officer, told The New York Times in 2016. "Wreckage was all over the village. A big part of the bomber had crashed down in the yard of the school."

By the evening of Jan. 17, all the airmen had been accounted for and no villagers were hurt. But U.S. personnel continued their search for the four nuclear bombs the B-52 had been carrying.

Days of searching

Eighty days after it fell into the ocean following the January 1966 midair collision between a nuclear-armed B-52G bomber and a KC-135 refueling tanker over Palomares, Spain, this B28RI nuclear bomb was recovered from 2,850 feet (869 meters) of water and lifted aboard the USS Petrel. (Image from U.S. Navy)

The bombs — each carrying 1.45 megatons of explosive power, about 100 times as much as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — were not armed, meaning there was no chance of a nuclear detonation.

One was recovered intact, but the high-explosives in two of them, designed to detonate and trigger a nuclear blast, did explode. The blasts left house-size craters on either side of the village, scattering plutonium and contaminating crops and farmland.

"There was no talk about radiation or plutonium or anything else," Frank B. Thompson, then a 22-year-old trombone player, told The New York Times in 2016.

Thompson and others spent days searching contaminated fields without protective equipment or even a change of clothes. "They told us it was safe, and we were dumb enough, I guess, to believe them," he said.

The fourth bomb remained missing after days of searching, its absence embarrassing for the U.S. and potentially deadly for people in the area.

The Pentagon called on engineers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, who crunched the available numbers in order to determine where the missing bomb may have landed. The circumstances of the crash and the multitude of variables made such an estimate difficult.

Clues pointed to a sea landing for the fourth bomb, but there was little hard data to indicate where.

An interview with the fisherman who watched five members of the bomber's crew land at sea yielded a breakthrough.

The "dead man" was, in fact, the bomb attached to its parachute, and the "half man, with his guts trailing" was the empty parachute bag with its packing lines trailing in the air.

That information led the engineers assisting the search to recommend a new search area, bringing the total area being scoured to 27 square miles — with visibility of only 20 feet in some spots.

On Feb. 11, the Navy called in Alvin, a 22-foot-long, 8-foot-wide submersible weighting 13 tons. It had room for a pilot and two observers, carried several cameras and a grappling arm, and could dive to 6,000 feet.

Also Read: 32 times when the U.S. military screwed up with nukes

Alvin's primitive technology made the search a slog. There was no progress until March 1, when they spotted a track on the seabed.

Two more weeks of searching went by before they spotted the bomb — 2,550 feet below the surface, almost exactly in the spot where the fisherman had seen it enter the water. On March 24, divers in Alvin managed to attach a line to the bomb's parachute. Just after 8 p.m., a winch on a Navy ship began to reel in the line. About an hour later, the line broke, sending the bomb back to the ocean floor.

They found it again on April 2, resting about 350 feet deeper in the same area. The Navy rigged up another retrieval plan using an unmanned recovery vehicle, but it got caught in the bomb's parachute. On April 7, the admiral leading the search ordered his crew to lift the whole thing.

The laborious process that followed, assisted by Navy frogmen, lifted the missing nuclear bomb to the surface, bringing the 81-day saga to a close.

Alvin's pilots became international heroes, but little else about the incident ended so well.

'They told us everything was safe'

U.S. soldiers plowed up 600 acres of crops in Palomares, sending it to the Savannah River nuclear complex in South Carolina for disposal.

The U.S. government paid $710,914 to settle 536 Spanish claims. The fisherman, who wanted his claim for finding the bomb, sued for $5 million and eventually won $14,566. Madrid, where protesters had chanted "Yankee assassins!" during the search, asked U.S. Strategic Air Command to stop its flights over Spain. The airborne-alert program of which Operation Chrome Dome was a part was curtailed and then ended for good in 1992.

The U.S. personnel involved in the search and Spaniards in the area have lived with the legacy of the accident in the half-century since it happened.

Despite removing soil in the immediate aftermath, tests in the 1990s revealed high levels of Americium, a product of decaying plutonium, in the village. More tests showed that 50,000 cubic meters of the soil remained radioactive. The U.S. agreed to clean up the contamination remaining in the village in 2015.

Many of the U.S. veterans who assisted the search have said they are dealing with the effects of plutonium poisoning. Linking cancers to a single exposure to radiation is impossible, and there hasn't been any study to assess whether they have an elevated incidence of illness, but in the years since, some have been ravaged by disease.

The mystery of why these people are smiling also persists.

Of the 40 veterans involved in the search who were identified by The Times in 2016, 21 had cancer — nine had died from it.

Many of the men have blamed the Air Force, which sent them to clean the scene with little protective gear and later fed troops the contaminated crops that Spaniards refused to eat. One military-police officer was given a plastic bag and told to pick up radioactive fragments by hand.

The Air Force also dismissed tests done at the time showing the men had high levels of plutonium contamination.

"It took me a long time to start to realize this maybe had to do with cleaning up the bombs," said Arthur Kindler, who was a grocery supply clerk at the time of the incident.

He was so covered in plutonium during the cleanup that the Air Force made him wash off in the ocean and took his clothes. Four years later, he developed testicular cancer and a rare lung infection; he has had cancer in his lymph nodes three times since then.

"You have to understand, they told us everything was safe," Kindler said. "We were young. We trusted them. Why would they lie?"

Military Life

Female veterans pose on same ship that carried WW2 troops

Award-winning nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets is releasing its 13th annual fundraising calendar to raise money for VA hospitals; ill, injured, and homeless veterans; deployed troops; and military families. The 2019 calendar, photographed on the iconic Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, features 19 female veterans decked out in World War II inspired fashion.

"Fans of Art Deco will appreciate the look of the upcoming calendar that reflects the vintage glamour of this 1936 cruise liner, now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA as a floating hotel," said Pin-Ups For Vets Founder, Gina Elise, who established Pin-Ups For Vets in 2006, as a way to honor the WWII service of her grandfather.

Gina Elise, Founder

Gina has devoted her life to giving back to the military community. To date, Pin-Ups For Vets has donated over $58,000 to help hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and to provide financial assistance for Veterans' healthcare program expansion across the United States.

The 2019 calendar is officially ready for pre-order at www.PinUpsForVets.com. All 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar pictures were taken by Shane Karns Photography — and let me just tell you...he really nailed it.


Kirstie Ennis, U.S. Marine Corps veteran

From a linguist, to a Human Intelligence Collector, to a combat photographer, to a combat medic, to a motor transportation operator, to a heavy equipment transporter driver leading convoys in Iraq, to a helicopter door gunner in Afghanistan, these ladies also include an above-the-knee amputee veteran (Marine Corps veteran Kirstie Ennis — who, by the way, at the time of this publishing was climbing Mount Denali in support of Service to Summit to raise money for Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that builds or modifies homes and gives them to veterans in need).

Julie Noyes, Army veteran

Army veteran Julie Noyes says, "It can be so difficult as a female service member to feel empowered in her beauty without feeling like she may betray the professionalism of her uniform when we only seek to be treated like our male counterparts. I feel that Pin-Ups for Vets does a superb job at raising money and awareness for our elderly, wounded vets and our currently deployed troops while also showcasing the class and beauty of female veterans without objectifying them. What Pin-Ups Vets Founder Gina Elise has done with this publication and non-profit is nothing short of empowering and inspiring."

Naumika Kumar, Navy Veteran

"I will always be thankful to the Navy. I met my husband in the Navy who is also a veteran now and I graduated from National University with Master's Degree in 2012 as well. I am happy to see there are organization such as Pin-Ups For Vets who are doing so much to support the military and Veterans. I am happy that I got an opportunity to be part of the organization."

Patti Gomez, Army veteran

Patti is a veteran of the United States Army, where she proudly served in the New York Army National Guard as a 35M (Human Intelligence Collector) of the 42nd Infantry Division, located in Glenville, New York. She volunteered to attend JRTC in Fort Polk, Louisiana, alongside the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in July 2016. She also trained at Warfighter at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, with her unit in October 2017. Patti attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and attended Advanced Individual Training at the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

"Pin-Ups for Vets is an incredible organization with an important mission. Being a part of a nonprofit that helps veterans and empowers women at the same time is truly an honor and one that I couldn't pass up when I was asked to be a part of the 2019 calendar. As the reigning Mrs. New York America, my platform is veteran organizations — and Pin-Ups for Vets is truly among the best of them!"

Check out that cover image!

The 2019 calendar can be purchased at: www.PinUpsForVets.com or by check to: Pin-Ups For Vets, PO Box 33, Claremont, CA 91711.

Articles

This Microsoft training fast tracks veterans into sweet tech careers

Solaire Brown (formerly Sanderson) was a happy, gung-ho Marine sergeant deployed in Afghanistan when she realized her military career was about to change. She was tasked with finding the right fit for her post-military life – and she knew she wanted to be prepared.

Injuries sustained during mine-resistant vehicle training had led to surgeries and functional recovery and it became clear Brown would no longer be able to operate at the level she expected of herself as a Marine.

Like many of the 200,000 service members exiting the military each year, Brown knew her military training could make her a valuable asset as an employee, but she was unsure of how her skills might specifically translate to employment in the civilian world.

Enter Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), a program Microsoft started in 2013 to provide transitioning service members and veterans with critical career skills required for today's growing technology industry.

Keep reading... Show less

This is what we know about Area 51

Area 51 is a restricted site in Nevada with an almost cult-like mythology surrounding it. Some people claim it's a standard military operation site, but others swear that it within its gated walls exists proof about extraterrestrial life.

Before we get into public knowledge, I want to throw in my thoughts on this. I was an intelligence officer in the Air Force and I maybe shouldn't post this on the internet but my final assignment was in a place that rhymes with Rational Maturity Agency, and while the government definitely does some cool classified work there, I can say with high confidence that no one would be able to keep aliens a secret. At least not the kinds of aliens we tell stories about. Maybe Area 51 has some petri dishes of extraterrestrial amoebas...but I really doubt it.

You can even see Area 51 on Google Maps. (PS: Just south of Area 51 is a place called "Sugar Bunker" and a brothel called "Alien Cathouse" — two locations I find much more shady and secretive than any military base.)

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

This band hires vets — especially when they go on tour

As veterans re-enter the civilian workforce, many struggle to make the transition. This is why opportunities (ahem — touring with famous heavy metal bands) for employment are so important. Five Finger Death Punch has made it a mission to offer such opportunities.

Keep reading... Show less

Here's the origin of the respected battlefield cross

Troops die in battle — it's an unfortunate fact, but it's the nature of the job. Countless men and women have sacrificed themselves to protect their fellow service members, their friends and family back home, and the lifestyle we enjoy here in the U.S.

"Battlefield crosses" were created to honor the fallen. A deceased troop's rifle is planted, barrel-first, into their boots (or, in some cases, the ground) and their helmet is placed atop the rifle. Like all things military, this cross is part of a long-standing tradition — a tradition that has evolved since its first use on the battlefields of the American Civil War.

Despite the fact that it's called a cross, there's no single religious ideology attached to the practice.

Keep reading... Show less

4 workouts that burn the most calories per hour

Service members have busy schedules, so it can be challenging to carve out time enough to burn those calories. Most of us exercise for about an hour each time we put on our PT gear. Typically, those workouts consists of a multi-mile run alongside our squadmates.

After the PT session, many troops call it a day, but other service members are looking to get as jacked as possible as quickly as they can — which leads us to the burning question:

Which workouts burn the most calories in the least time?

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

Why the 'Good Cookie' isn't a guaranteed medal

The Good Conduct Medal is one of the easiest medals an enlisted troop can earn. It's an award given to enlisted personnel for every three years of "honorable and faithful service." During times of war, the GCM can given out at one year of good service and can be posthumously awarded to service members killed in the line of duty.

But the GCM isn't the same as a service stripe, which is given to soldiers every three years, Marines, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen every four years, and is never given to airmen. To earn a GCM, you need to keep your nose clean (or don't get caught doing something you shouldn't) for three years. If you're a solider, boom, that's an instant 10 promotion points.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

This workhorse of Army aviation is over 40 years old

The UH-60 Black Hawk has been a mainstay of the United States Military since it was first delivered in 1978. This highly versatile helicopter has since served with all five branches of the armed services and has even found a home with other agencies, like U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well.

The primary purpose of the Black Hawk is to haul troops — at least 11 of them — but it's also very capable of hauling cargo — it can support 9,000 pounds hanging from a cargo hook. Versions of this helicopter also serve as medevacs, in command and control capacities, and as support to special operations forces. Some even pack a lot of firepower and take to the skies as gunships.

Keep reading... Show less