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Decades Later, Sickness Among Airmen After a Hydrogen Bomb Accident [1966 Palomares, Spain B-52 crash]

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In 1966, a B-52 bomber on a Cold War nuclear patrol exploded over Spain, releasing four hydrogen bombs. Fifty years later, Air Force veterans involved with the cleanup are sick and want recognition. Alarms sounded on United States Air Force bases in Spain and officers began packing all the low-ranking troops they could grab onto buses for a secret mission. There were cooks, grocery clerks and even musicians from the Air Force band. (www.nytimes.com) 기타...

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Highflyer1950
Typical US military crap. Pad the findings, lose the good evidence, cover it all up and then say everything is A ok. What BS from the idiot generals on down!
bbabis
Bill Babis 13
Very sad story to read. I had always known of the accident over Palomares but had never heard the behind scenes story of its cleanup. Now I know why! Come on U.S.! Own up to those who have served this country and not those whom want benefits for simply existing.
dennismerola
Congress wouldn't pay medical expenses for 1st responders at ground zero in NYC... why would they pay for something that happened 50 years ago... as if the couple of million that it would take to help all of these fine men would make a difference in our national debt..
jimmurray333
I served in the air force, enlisting at 17 for four years. I learned an order was an order. There was a yes, sir and a no, sir but never a but, sir! Those unfortunate airmen had no choice but to go out and do what had to be done. Those who sent them out had no choice, either. Something had to be done, and done immediately. It's impossible to assign blame. Perhaps we can blame government for having an airplane with four atomic bombs aboard with no contingency for an accident. This was a worse-case situation ever.
bbabis
There is no blame to be assigned. You are correct that it had to be done. The problem is that a responsibility is being ignored and criminally covered up.
jimmurray333
You are right. It was irresponsible and, I have to admit, criminal as well. It had to have been Lyndon Johnson, as only he had the power to hush it. Remember Tonkin Gulf.
oowmmr
oowmmr 5
Aye that's the military...the lower the rank the more expendable you are. Mere drones to be exploited when need be.
damavab
While I cannot second guess the emergency action taken after the disaster, as a nation we MUST step up and take care of our service people who simply did what was asked of them during that trying time.
BentParrot
I am so sickened with the way our veterans are being treated. Even if radiation dangers were not known in 1966, which would really be a stretch because much had been learned in the 21 years since we bombed Japan, we know those effects now. Just as we have long since known the incidences of cancer and other illnesses in St. George, Utah, the nearest town downwind from the nuclear testing in Nevada in the Fifties. I can only pray - veterans of my generation and branch of service - that your suffering is short and that you receive justice in the next life because you sure as hell are not getting it in this one.
yr2012
Just like their (Japanese & USA) govts said Fukushima was no danger.
amiablebird
or Hanford or Ozersk or Santa Susana or ...
safe as mother's milk
yr2012
Or Thule, where two actually went off. They had to move the village.
atsdroid
I went back to the book Atomic Accidents James A. Mahaffey and the description of events at Thule starts on page 314 of my edition:

HOBO 28, a B-52G loaded with 4 MK-28FI bombs (a/k/a B28FI, adjustable yield ~70kt - 1.45Mt), was flying mission "Junky 14" as part of Operation Hard Head (a dumb idea, Hard Head). Fire on the flight deck, started presumably by some poorly stowed seat cushions next to a hot-air vent, eventually forced evacuation of aircraft, which impacted at a shallow angle on the flat ice shelf of Wholstenholme Fjord, breaking up and scattering debris over 2.5 mi N-S line. Only one crewmember of seven died in the bailout. No HE detonation in any bomb, but the bombs broke up and became part of the debris field.

Air Force initially wanted to push the debris into the fjord, where it would be inaccessible to most of humanity, but Denmark insisted on total decontamination and debris removal to the USA, and they wanted to help ensure this by providing some of their own assisting crew. The cleanup established Camp Hunziger on-site, and was herculean esp. given WX cond. 93% of all material, plane and cargo, was accounted for, the 7% left presumed broken thru the ice and unrecoverable.

Debris sorted for bomb components and shipped separately to Pantex, where everything was ultimately accounted for except the secondary unit of one of the four bombs, made of HEU and lithium deuteride. Despite more searches, this part was never found. But for this lost secondary, the cleanup was essentially perfect. Also, since these bombs ran on U-235 and not Pu-239, from a chemistry as well as radiological standpoint, the material is less a health hazard. It appears highly unlikely that the one missing secondary will ever see human contact.

Nothing exploded in either a conventional or nuclear way (just a large fuel fire), and no village or population required moving. As a result of the crash, however, SAC realized Hard Head could actually cause an accidental nuclear war, and the flights were never resumed.

A Danish lawsuit forced declassification of the source material for this account, absent which most Americans and the wider world generally might still not know about this accident.

Mahaffey appears to be quite thoroughly plugged into wide ranging primary source material, so this account seems reliable.
yr2012
You have only part of the story - I refer you to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Thule_Air_Base_B-52_crash
410 workers of the 1100 Greenland citizens had various cancers from working at the tank farm (near where we lived prior) as part of the cleanup.

In 1987–88 and again in 2000, reports surfaced in the Danish press that one of the bombs had not been recovered.[51] SAC stated at the time of the accident that all four bombs were destroyed. In 2008, the BBC published an article that was based on its examination of partly declassified documents obtained some years earlier via the United States FOIA. Three of the four were recovered, but a July 1968 report states, "An analysis by the AEC of the recovered secondary components indicates recovery of 85% of the uranium and 94%, by weight, of three secondaries. No parts of the fourth secondary have been identified".

Bottom line - Pituffik had to be moved 85km to Qaanaag and the site is still considered dangerous, much like Chernobyl.
atsdroid
CORRECTIONS (2) to my earlier comment, and added assessment:

Ok, thank you, I didn't see or look for the Wiki article on the incident before.

That article shows a few minor discrepancies compared to Mahaffey (spellings of names, D'Mario/D'Amario, Hunziker/Hunziger) and I think the Wiki is probably more accurate pertaining to the post-crash details (at least it's more detailed). My reading of Mahaffey misled me to the understanding there was no Pu in the bombs, which is incorrect[1]. They are the same type as at Palomares, and Pu is in the primary. The book's depiction also led me to understand there was no explosion of the bomb HE, which appears also incorrect[2], so Pu from bomb primaries would indeed have the opportunity to become finely deposited over the area. So I think the book gives a slightly misleading picture of the effect from the crash and aftermath, though seems good regarding the accident itself, crew rescue and general engagement of parties involved.

According to the Wiki and Mahaffey, the cleanup ended in 1968. The Wiki reports scientific monitoring has been ongoing with periodic expeditions, the most recent in 2008, published findings in 2011. No cleanup effort was restarted in the 1980s, nor is one ongoing "with no end in sight", as you claim, according to the Wiki.

However, Danish workers involved in the 1968 cleanup effort began various lawsuits starting in 1987. Proof of elevated cancer rates compared with workers at Thule before and since the cleanup appears to have been established, but has thus far not been legally linked with hazards in the accident debris cleanup (a contentious issue similar to Palomares).

I cannot agree with your bottom-line statement, however. Wikipedia also says Pituffik was relocated to Qaanaaq during 1952-53 in order to build Thule Air Base, /not due to radioactive contamination from this incident/. While the Wiki on Pituffik mentions reports of contamination affecting ancestral hunting grounds with anecdotal reports of mutated animals, they do not appear to me to be credible when compared to other sources cited. Back on the accident's Wiki, citations to recent radiological surveys done of the area show that in general, no trace of radioactivity exists above the typical background levels one might find in Europe. An exception was at Narsaarsuk (SW of Pituffik), which did show Pu contamination in soil samples just high enough to be considered a minor health risk if it were to be suspended in air (and ingested), but rain and air samples indicated that this was not occurring.

According to its Wiki, Pituffik's status is a contentious issue between the USA, Denmark, and Greenland governments, both because of the 1950s resettlement and this 1968 crash. A key feature of the controversy seems to be the rights of native populations in conflict with the desires of a controlling western government, a not uncommon issue in Greenland, Canada, and the Americas. Here, while the new Greenland government now has much autonomy from Denmark, it must still defer to Denmark in matters of foreign affairs, such as continued permission for the USA to operate the base.

The place is currently still Thule Air Base, and so access is restricted. It is most decidedly /not/ a zone like Chernobyl, not in any way.
yr2012
Well you have to be from there and decide who's telling the truth.
glenkrc
glen krc 2
Don't know what you mean by "actually went off". There was an HE detonation of 2 weapons in the Palomares accident, but no nuclear detonation. At Thule, the violent nature of the crash (whole lot of fuel on board) likely detonated the HE in all 4 of the weapons, but as in Palomares, there was no nuclear detonation. Had there been a nuclear detonation, they would have detected fission fragments. None were detected.
yr2012
My wife's family is from Qaanaaq - about 85km from Pituffik where we worked on occasion. That was before the "dew" line base was created. When they abandonded (ie bugged out) the base, they left all the materiels, fuel tanks and waste dump. We were able to scavange parts for gen-sets and apu's to power our home there. Thankfully we weren't there when HOBO 28 crashed on the ice detonating four bombs. The cleanup began in earnest during the late 80's and still there's no end in sight.
atsdroid
Do you have a reference for that one at Thule? I just finished James Mahaffey's book, "Atomic Accidents" and don't remember reading about exploded ordnance there.
glenkrc
glen krc 2
Nope, just my inference. Fire in cabin + lots of fuel on board + violent crash = HE detonation.
damavab
If the answer IS, we cannot afford the cost. The money IS THERE.Stop supporting illegals. That would take care of the cash shortage.
bbabis
This also makes one wonder when the Air Force and government say that there is nothing to be afraid of from the nuclear bomb lost in Wassaw Sound. They say its not a complete bomb. But, why would a bomber carry around an incomplete bomb? Some day we may find out the hard way who's telling the truth.
glenkrc
glen krc 1
It was an "incomplete" weapon because it did not have a nuclear capsule in it. That's one means by which our early nuclear weapons were "safed". The plane was on a simulated combat training mission, and it would have been unnecessarily risky (from a logistics standpoint and a safety standpoint) to even have the capsule on the plane. In an actual combat mission, the capsule would initially be on the plane but not in the weapon. For safety, it would be inserted into the weapon at an appropriate time during the flight.

By the way, surprise of surprises, it seems that the weapon was found by recreational divers last year. I'm attempting to get confirmation from the appropriate authorities. http://worldnewsdailyreport.com/georgia-amateur-divers-find-long-lost-nuclear-warhead/
bbabis
Thanks for the post Glen. It sure does look like its been found. I guess the shifting tides slowly revealed it over time instead of further burying it. I feel better about my daughter living on James Island now. The article said that the Navy divers removed the Uranium core before recovery. Is that different than the nuclear capsule?
glenkrc
glen krc 0
Just to clarify, my checking with a government office revealed this to be a hoax. (Someone in my office pointed out to me that I should have just checked snopes, which says it's a hoax.) It appears the "Uranium core" is the author's way of describing the capsule, although such old capsules could have contained uranium, plutonium, or a combination of the two.
glenkrc
glen krc -1
I've done some checking, and the article is a hoax. In any case, Bill, I wouldn't be concerned about any radiation hazard in the area.
bbabis
bummer dude! It sure seams like technology today would be able to find that big chunk of metal buried in a swamp. That is of course if they want to find it.
yr2012
Glen: Better check the records again
http://www.ejection-history.org.uk/Aircraft_by_Type/B-47.htm

05 Feb 1958: The aircraft was carrying a nuclear weapon when it collided with an F-86 near Savannah. The aircraft was ordered to drop the weapon in the Savannah River rather than risk the possibility of a nuclear accident on landing. Major Richardson was awarded a DFC and the other two crewmembers received Commendation Medals. The aircraft was struck from the records on March 27th. The jettisoned nuclear weapon was never recovered.
glenkrc
glen krc -1
If you look back at my earlier posts in this conversation, you'll find that I agree that a weapon fell in the drink and remains there. I first heard about this accident nearly 40 years ago and was thus surprised that the weapon had been "found" without my having heard about it. (Of course I quickly found out the reported recovery of the weapon was a hoax.) Regardless, I stand by my statement that, lacking the nuclear capsule, the remainder of the weapon represents, at most, a minimal radiation hazard.
damavab
Is the problem for taking care of our Veterans money? That could be partially solved by NOT financialy supporting Illegals.
chalet
chalet 0
Some stories albeit incomplete and not too documented have surfaced about nuclear bombs exploded at or near the famous Area 51 compound in Nevada with the specific purpose of estalishing the exact results of radiation affecting residents there including family members.
VKSheridan
Over 600 devices were tested at the Nevada Test Site which is adjacent to Area 51. No historical records exist of any military personnel, let alone civilian families being purposely exposed. I grew up near there and the workers went to great effort to ensure all tests were contained. Yes, there were above ground tests that in hindsight seem negligent in verifying wind direction but it certainly wasn't to see how many tax paying citizens they were striving to protect could get poisoned......
glenkrc
glen krc 0
VK - My experience and knowledge agree with your position. I was at NTS from 1985-89 as part of the construction management staff for various tunnel tests. Great attention to detail to assure best chance for successful containment. I was there during the 1986 Mighty Oak test, which forced sizable controlled releases of radioactivity in order to clear the tunnel. Those interested in how tests were contained can check out this link (page 48 shows how Mighty Oak releases compared to others. https://www.princeton.edu/~ota/disk1/1989/8909/890905.PDF

When some traces of abnormal radioactivity were found in the Spring Mountains west of Las Vegas, thoughts immediately turned to the releases from Mighty Oak. Further analysis demonstrated it really came from Chernobyl.

Finally, the government has made some significant attempts to "come clean" identify the likely effects of radiation exposure on troops and civilians. The two that come to mind are the
glenkrc
glen krc 0
Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments and the Nuclear Test Personnel Review http://www.dtra.mil/Portals/61/Documents/NTPR/1-Fact_Sheets/4_NTPR_Reviews_and_Studies.pdf
yr2012
Do you believe everything the media and govt have to say?
KineticRider
Exactly Matt, some... actually most people believe EVERYTHING the government tells them even after having proof of prior lies!
glenkrc
glen krc 0
I do when I have first-hand knowledge of the situation and know the people who contributed to the report.
KineticRider
"Knowing the people who contributed to the report" is SECOND HAND knowledge NOT first hand knowledge; further Glen YOU are easily fooled as you posted earlier a COMPLETELY inaccurate report dispelled by Snopes so you have NO credibility and it also proves you easily believe in fairytales which is EXACTLY what this article was about.... naive military people blindly believing what they are told, YOU are living proof! LOL
glenkrc
glen krc -1
Randy - If you look at my original posts on the supposed "finding" of the Savannah River weapon, you'll see that I was "attempting to get confirmation from the appropriate authorities" and later reported that "my checking with a government office revealed this to be a hoax". You consider that being "fooled"? I would maintain that I was surprised, but suspicious, and set about getting an authoritative answer. Why rely on snopes when you can go to the source?
KineticRider
If you believe what the military says, YOU are the fool!
VKSheridan
Randy, one doesn't need to rely on hearsay when they have personal, first hand knowledge.
richardlodwick
If the HE went off, it acts as a dispersal device - currently called a dirty bomb, If HE was detonated, in each case (Spain and Greenland)you would have had lethal uptakes of plutonium.

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