January 21, 1968 Anniversary: B-52 Crashes in Greenland Carrying 4 Hydrogen Bombs
January 22, 2014
The Aviationist & BBC News
"On this day in history, Jan. 21, 1968, a B-52G Stratofortress belonging to the 380th Strategic Bomb Wing from Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York, crashed in in Greenland in what is remembered as the second 'Broken Arrow' incident. The accident happened when the plane caught fire and the crew bailed out before the plane crashed through the ice. Forty-six years later, one of the thermonuclear weapons is still missing."
B-52 Bombers in Flight
B-52 Crashes at Fairchild Air Force Base
June 24, 1991 (at 9:14 minutes in clip)
On This Day in 1968,
A B-52 Crashed in Greenland
With 4 Hydrogen Bombs
David Cenciotti / The Aviationist
(January 21 2014) -- On Jan. 21, 1968, a B-52G Stratofortress belonging to the 380th Strategic Bomb Wing from Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York, crashed in in Greenland in what is remembered as the second "Broken Arrow" incident (yes, that codeword is not only used in movies).
The bomber, using radio call-sign "Hobo 28″ was flying an armed peacetime airborne alert mission known under the codename of "Hard Head": its purpose was to maintain a visual surveillance of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), which provided early warning of Soviet missile launches, at Thule Air Base.
During the mission, the Stratofortress experienced a cockpit fire, failed to make an emergency landing at Thule and eventually crashed on sea ice in North Star Bay.
Six of the seven crew members were able to eject the aircraft but the four hydrogen bombs carried by the B-52 (that did not detonate because of "Weak Links" safety mechanisms) released radioactive material.
In spite of an attempt to restrict the leaks, the high winds, the cold temperatures and the fire caused by the burning Stratofortress caused the dispersion of some other radioactive material into the sea.
By the way, one of the four B-28 thermonuclear [weapons] remains unaccounted for, after 46 years.
The crash, which followed the other Broken Arrow incident occurred in Spain two years earlier, highlighted the safety (and diplomatic) risks those kind of airborne alert missions, which were immediately ended.
1968: Radiation Alert Following B-52 Crash
LONDON (January 28, 1968) -- A recovery team is searching for wreckage from an American Air Force B-52 bomber armed with four hydrogen bombs which crashed into the sea near the Arctic air base of Thule in Greenland.
Investigators are searching the area eight miles west of Thule for radioactive debris. The accident happened a week ago when the plane caught fire and the crew bailed out before the plane crashed through the ice.
The United States defence department says parts of the bombs have been found. But it is thought the radioactive detonators are still missing.
A team of 47 men with dog sleigh teams have been brought in to clear the wreckage. The sea surrounding the crash site has since re-frozen.
One of the scientists involved in the operation said all the wreckage was emitting low level radiation but there was no evidence of radiation on the snow. The risk of contamination is said to be slight -- except to those working on the spot who are equipped with protective clothing.
Two years ago, there was a similar accident involving a B-52 over the sea off Palomares in southeast Spain. The plane dropped its bombs over the Spanish coast.
It took nearly 80 days to recover the last of the four bombs on board that plane. The Spanish subsequently banned flights carrying nuclear weapons over their territory.
Plutonium specialist Dr Wright Langham, who is serving as a consultant to the recovery operation at Thule, said preliminary indications of the radiation levels showed two of the four weapons had broken.
He said: "One point to make is that since the count level is comparable to what we saw in Spain we can equate what we have here to what we had in Spain."
Dr Langham has insisted radiation is not a hazard at Thule. Most of the crash site has now been cleared of radioactive debris.
50 Years Ago, a B-52
Lost Its Tail over New Mexico,
But Managed to Land
David Cenciotti / The Aviationist
(January 11, 2014) -- On Jan. 10, 1964, a B-52H flown by Boeing civilian test pilot Chuck Fisher and his three man crew lost its tail at about 14,000 ft over northern New Mexico's Sangre de Christo Mountains.
The aircraft was involved in a test mission whose purpose was to shake, rattle and roll the Stratofortress bomber at high speed and low altitude to record sensor data on how such a profile could affected the plane's airframe.
The crew did their job: the vertical stabilizer detached from the B-52.
Six hours later, with support from the ground, Fisher successfully performed the first and only Stratofortress's tailless landing!
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