The Tragic Midair Collision That Caused A B-52 To Lose A Hydrogen Bomb
(We Are The Mighty/YouTube)
The Cold War was a time of incredible tension between the United States and the Soviet Union as with the constant threat of nuclear war. The United States used a group of B-52s armed with nuclear weapons circle the globe within striking distance of the Soviet Union to deter the chance of war breaking out. The program worked well to prevent nuclear weapons being used, but not everything went according to plan.
As part of Operation Chrome Dome, the US Air Force was on high alert 24 hours a day. So aerial refueling is was necessary in order to maintain the presence of their Strategic Air Command. In 1966 as a B-52 Stratofortress was conducting a routine refueling over Spain, it collided with a KC-135 causing a massive explosion.
The crew of the K-135 perished in the crash, while some members of the B-52 managed to escape to safety. However, the more pressing concern was the four bombs that fell from the Stratofortress. Some of the non-nuclear weapons detonated near the city of Palomares, Spain causing the plutonium to contaminate the area and over 500 individual health cases to settle.
Easily the most problematic matter of this crash was a hydrogen bomb that fell off and went into the Mediterranian. Crews scrambled to find the missing nuclear weapon, knowing that it could spell disaster it left in the sea. It took over 80 days but the hydrogen bomb was eventually located and recovered by Naval vessels, divers as well as submersibles.
This was a bad scenario but not a worst case since none of the nuclear weapons detonated. We Are The Mighty dives deeper into the Palomares incident in this clip.