Little Bits of History

Bombing Spain

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 17, 2014
The bomb recovered from the Med

The bomb recovered from the Mediterranean Sea

January 17, 1966: Palomares, Spain is unintentionally bombed. A B-52G bomber of the US Air Force Strategic Air Command was being fueled in flight by a KC-135 tanker, also a US plane, from the Morón Air Base in Spain. They were flying over the Mediterranean Sea at 31,000 feet when they collided. The tanker was completely destroyed as the fuel it was carrying ignited. All four crew members aboard were killed. The B-52G broke apart and three of the seven crew members of that plane also died while the others were able to eject and parachute to safety. Also aboard the plane were four Mk28-type hydrogen bombs.

Three of the bombs were found on land near Palomares, a small fishing village in Cuevas Del Almanzora, Almeria, Spain. The non-nuclear explosives in two of the bombs detonated on impact although the nuclear warheads did not. Even so, this resulted in the contamination of 490 acres by plutonium. The third landed in a riverbed and was essentially intact. These three bombs were all located within 24 hours of the accident. The fourth bomb was not able to be located even with the help of Britain’s aerial photos produced by the 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing’s help. The RAF’s photos showed no fourth bomb and yet, four were missing.

On January 22, the US Air Force contacted the Navy and asked for help. The Navy convened a Technical Advisory Group and brought together men and other resources to help in the location of the last device. Bayesian search theory, a novel mathematical method, was used to help calculate the position of the fourth bomb. The possible locations as assigned by probability were placed on a grid and as the search continued, the grid was updated. They were immensely helped by the fact that a local fisherman had witnessed the last bomb entering the water and could make calculations from that point.

Twenty-seven ships were eventually assembled to help locate the lost bomb. It was found in an unchartered  area of the Rio Almanzora canyon. It was resting at a 70-degree angle at a depth of 2,500 feet, too deep for divers to retrieve. The DSV Alvin located the bomb on March 17 and tried to bring it to the surface. It was dropped and had to be found again, this time on April 2 and now at 2,900 feet deep. After more troubles the bomb was finally able to come to the surface where it was loaded aboard a ship and brought back to the US. The cleanup of the land area took much longer and even after four decades, there remains some background contamination in the region. Snails have been seen with increased radioactivity, but humans seem to have escaped unscathed. In March 2009, Time magazine indentified Palomares as one of the world’s “worst nuclear disasters”.

One has to look out for engineers – they begin with sewing machines and end up with the atomic bomb. – Marcel Pagnol

The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country. – J. Robert Oppenheimer

The atom bomb is a paper tiger which the United States reactionaries use to scare people. It looks terrible, but in fact it isn’t. – Mao Zedong

We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can’t bomb it into peace. – Michael Franti

Also on this day: Heading for the Hills in Minnesota – In 1950, the Great Brinks Robbery took place.
Strong to the Finnich – In 1929, Elzie Crisler Segar’s Popeye first appeared in a comic strip.
Fore – In 1916, the US Professional Golfers’ Association [PGA] was formed.
Our Loss – In 1945, Raoul Wallenberg was arrested.

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