Three of the Scariest Nuclear Bomb Accidents in History
1958 Georgia: Nuclear Bomb Training Accident
Nuclear Bombing training exercises were common during the 1950s, so it’s not entirely surprising for an accident to occur. And it did occur off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina when a B-47 bomber collided with an F-86 in midair. The F-86 pilot was able to eject safely, but the B-47 pilot had to assess his situation as he had a (possibly) fully functioning nuclear bomb on board.
With all the damage, the pilot decided to drop the bomb and was able to land safely. The bomb landed in the shallow bays and silt of Tybee Island, right by Savanna, Georgia. The bomb was buried deep in the silt, and months of searching couldn’t recover the nuclear bomb. Other attempts have also been launched to find the bomb as recent as the 2000’s, but with no concrete results. It's still out there.
1950 California: A Tragic Nuclear Accident
One of the deadliest nuclear accidents aside from reactor meltdowns, the Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base accident cost 19 lives and injured over 100 people.
Ten bombers were scheduled to fly from California to Guam, each carrying a nuclear bomb. One of the planes, carrying General Robert Travis, had major mechanical problems and had to turn back.
The pilot was forced to make an emergency crash landing. Twelve of the 20 crew and passengers were killed including General Travis. The wrecked bomber caught fire and several brave men rushed to extinguish the flames before they detonated the conventional explosives of the nuke. Unfortunately, the 5,000 pounds of explosives blew up and killed seven more men, while injuring over 100 more. The base is now known as the Travis Air Force Base
1966 – Spain: Radioactive Tomatoes and the Perils of Aerial Refueling
One of the more complicated incidents, the Palomares incident, involved another aerial refueling, this time over Palomares in Spain. A B-52 collided with its refueling tanker, breaking the refueling arm and exploding the fuel tanker. The explosion killed all four crewmen of the tanker and three men in the bomber. As the bomber began to fall apart, the remaining crew bailed out as the four nuclear bombs fell near the coast of Spain.
One bomb plunged into the Mediterranean, recovered about a month later. Another bomb fell into a soft riverbed and did not explode. The remaining bombs, however, exploded outside the village of Palomares. Though the nuclear explosion didn’t trigger, radioactive material was spread for miles.
Tons of radioactive tomatoes and soil had to be taken to nuclear waste dumps. Thankfully no one in the town was killed, but they were given a desalinization plant to ensure clean drinking water, as well as a half a million dollars in various settlements. Interestingly enough, a fisherman found the bomb that went into the sea and claimed a maritime salvage reward equal to one percent of the value of the find. The bomb was about 2 billion dollars, but the military settled the issue out of court for an undisclosed amount.