On January 17, 1966, the United States lost a B28 hydrogen bomb in the Mediterranean Sea. The bomb was lost during a routine military aircraft refueling over the Mediterranean off of the coast of Spain, near Palomares. A horrible accident occurred, which resulted in one of the most publicized broken arrow situations in history.
An American B-52G bomber was refueling via a KC-135 tanker about six miles over the Mediterranean when the two aircrafts collided. There was roughly 40,000 gallons of fuel inside of the tanker. Inside of the bomber, there were four B28 hydrogen bombs. The impact between the two aircraft caused the fuel in the tanker to catch fire and the tanker subsequently exploded. There were four crew members on board. All were killed.
The bomber also broke up in the sky. There were seven crew members on board the bomber, and three of them perished; four were able to use their parachutes to reach the ground. When the plane broke apart, all four bombs were released. Three of the bombs landed on the ground near a Spanish village named Palomares. The other went straight into the sea.
One of the three hydrogen bombs landed on the ground without causing significant damage, however, the explosives in the other two detonated, causing some of the plutonium in the bombs to escape. Nearly one square mile of Spanish soil was contaminated with the radioactive material. The United States government had to clean up the site, of course. Over the next three months nearly 1,750 tons of contaminated soil was removed from the area. While this was happening, military authorities were frantically searching for the fourth bomb.
A local had seen the bomb enter the water and told the authorities what he had seen. Searchers used this information to calculate where the bomb would have landed on the sea floor. The search went on for roughly 10 weeks and was aided by the extremely useful Alvin submersible. Eventually the missing nuclear weapon was found and a photograph was taken that was released to the media. This was the first time in history that a photograph of a nuclear bomb had been revealed to the public.
Other incidents where a nuclear bomb has gone missing have occurred, but none of them had been quite as public as the Palomares Hydrogen Bomb Incident. The explosion and the bombs falling had been visible to many people. There had been no way to deny what had happened, but people believe that the government has falsely denied the loss of a nuclear bomb before.
Prior to the Palomares incident, there had been a supposed Broken Arrow near Savannah, Georgia. A bomber had been damaged and forced to drop its load. Government officials claim that it was not an active nuclear bomb, but residents of Georgia don't want to take a chance. To this day people search for that bomb, hoping that if it is there, they will find it before terrorists do. Luckily in the case of the Palomares bomb, we don't have to wonder what is sitting at the bottom of the sea.