B-36 Drops Nuke on Albuquerque

B-36 Peacekeeper

May 22, 1957- A B-36 aircraft (52-2816) of the 334th Bombardment Squadron, 95th Bombardment Wing, was transporting a Mark 17 ten-megaton hydrogen bomb from Biggs AFB, Texas to Kirkland AFB, New Mexico. As the aircraft was on approach to Kirkland and over Albuquerque, New Mexico, the thermonuclear device, weighing 42,000 pounds, dropped from the bomber just 4 miles south of Albuquerque.

Mark 17
Mark 17 Hydrogen bomb.

Accounts of what caused the incident vary, but one version suggests that a crewmember in the bomb bay was jolted by sudden turbulence. He grabbed hold of the manual bomb release lever to steady himself, causing the weapon to crash through the closed bomb bay doors and plummet to earth.

Richard ″Dick″ Meyer, 62, a retired lieutenant colonel, told the El Paso (Texas) Times that a crewman between the wings and the tail of the aircraft saw what had happened.

″Simultaneously, he called, ‘Bombs away,’ and the plane lurched upward about 1,000 feet when it lost so much weight at once,″ Meyer said.

″And someone yelled, ‘Oh, SHIT.’ It might have been me,″ Meyer said.

The weapon plummeted 1700 feet to earth and exploded. The physics package which made the bomb nuclear was not installed for obvious safety reasons. However, the conventional explosives used to support the detonation of the package did explode. A crater 25 feet in diameter was formed and a cow was killed. Radioactive material remaining in the weapon showered down for a mile around the explosion. The Air Force reimbursed the farmer for his cow and the city of Albuquerque for the land and roads destroyed when the Air Force removed the contaminated soil.

The B-36

The Crash of the Lake Mead Bomber

 

On the 21st of July, 1948, RB-29F  SN:45-21847 crashed into Lake Mead Reservoir, Nevada. The aircraft was flown out of NAWS China Lake, Armitage Field, Inyokern, California. Captain Robert M. Madison and the four man crew were participating in operation “Sun Tracker”. The purpose of this project was to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile guidance system that used the sun for direction and positioning.

Captain Robert M. Madison (rt) and his crew chatting with engineers.

 

The crash report states that the Star Tracker system operator requested a low pass on Lake Mead. I think the pilot just wanted to buzz the lake after a rather boring mission. The lake was glassy smooth that day and the pass was supposed to be at 300 feet. Due to the water conditions, Madison misjudged his height and hit the water.

 

In a wings level attitude, the B-29 skipped over the water once and came to rest hundreds of yards later where in settled wings level and sank. No MAYDAY call was made due to the abruptness of the mishap. The crew escaped without injury and then floated on Lake Mead for four and a half hours before being rescued.

Shipwreck #4 – The Secret Of Lake Mead from NPS Submerged Resources Center on Vimeo.

 

The wreck sat undisturbed until a private Daddy/Daughter dive team led by Gregg Mikolasek of In Depth Consulting found the wreck of the B-29 in the Overton Arm of Lake Mead, using side scan sonar. Because of the equipment on board the wreck’s approximate location and mission had remained classified by the Department of Defense until 2005.

This how the wreck appears in the video game “Fallout-New Las Vegas”. It’s not accurate because three of the four engines were sheared off in the crash.

The initial depth of over 600 feet kept the wreck out of reach of only experienced deep divers. The water level of Lake Mead has now dropped to a level that allows recreational divers to tour wreck and the site is manage by the National Park Service.

Through the years, rumors have been spread that the wreck is radioactive. This is not true because the crash happened four year before the first atomic test in Nevada occurred with SHOT ABLE at 5:45 27 local time on January 1951 at Frenchman Flat, Nevada.

CRASH REPORT