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    Thule Broken Arrow
    January 21st 1968, a US Air Force B-52 bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed into the frozen ocean in Greenland near Thule Air Base, causing widespread radioactive contamination. Controversially, the components of only three of the four bombs could be accounted for, leaving a radioactive legacy that haunts the inhabitants of North Star Bay to this day..|Read More|

    On January 21, 1968, a United States Air Force B-52G Stratofortress from the 380th Strategic Bomb Wing at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York had been conducting a routine "Chrome Dome" airborne alert flight over Baffin Bay. The purpose of the Chrome Dome missions was to fly a nuclear-armed B-52 above Greenland at all times, so that Strategic Air Command would still have communications and defensive capability in the event of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System at Thule Air Base being knocked out by a Soviet first strike.

    The flight was uneventful, apart from the scheduled mid-air refuelling. Approximately an hour after refuelling, while the aircraft was circling above its designated area, Captain Haug directed co-pilot Major D'Mario to take his rest period. The crew was uncomfortably cold, despite the rheostat being turned right up, so D' Mario opened an engine bleed value to increase the cabin temperature. Over the next half hour, the temperature became uncomfortably hot, despite the rheostat being turned down again.

    At 15:22 EST, approximately six hours into the flight and 140 km south of Thule Air Base, the captain declared an emergency, advising air traffic control that he had a fire on board and requesting permission to descend immediately to Thule Air Base. Within five minutes the crew realized the fire, in the aft section of the lower deck, was out of control when the fire extinguishers were depleted, electrical power was lost and smoke filled the cockpit to the point that instruments could no longer be read. Once D'Mario confirmed they were directly over the lights of Thule Air Base, four crewmen ejected, followed shortly thereafter by Haug and D'Mario. The co-pilot, Svitenko, did not have an ejection seat and attempted to bail out through one of the lower hatches, but sustained fatal injuries.

    The pilotless aircraft initially continued northwards before turning 180 degress to the left and crashing into sea ice in North Star Bay, about 12 km West of Thule Air Base. The conventional high explosive components of four B-28FI model hydrogen bombs detonated on impact, spreading radioactive material over a large area, although a nuclear explosion was not triggered. The 181,610 litres of unused aviation fuel burned for the next 5 to 6 hours melting the ice sheet, causing wreckage and matériel from the crash to sink to the ocean floor.

    Project Crested Ice

    The Danes and Americans immediately launched a huge joint clean up operation named "Project Crested Ice" (informally known as "Dr Freezelove") to remove the debris and to contain environmental damage. Despite the cold and darkness of the Arctic winter, there was considerable pressure to complete the cleanup operation before the summer thaw. Clean up

    Components that were not immediately destroyed in the explosion and fire, were scattered over a 1.6 km by 4.8 km area. Plutonium radioactive levels as high as 380g/m2 were registered in a 120 m by 670 m area. Contaminated material that initially floated on the water under the ice was frozen into it, as the ice sheet expanded through the winter.

    A base camp, named "Camp Hunziker", was immediately created at the crash site. Weather conditions at the site were extreme, with an average temperature of −40.0 °C, at times dropping to −62.2 °C, and accompanied by winds of up to 137 km/h. By April, a decision had been taken to send a Star III mini-submarine to the base to look for the lost bomb, serial number 78252. The real purpose of the underwater search at Thule was declared NOFORN (Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals), and deliberately hidden from Danish officials. The underwater search was beset by technical problems and was eventually abandoned.

    The Pentagon stated at the time that all four bombs had been destroyed. However, declassified documents obtained in 2008, reveal that within weeks of the incident investigators piecing together the fragments realized that only three of the weapons could be accounted for.

    By the time the operation had been concluded, 700 specialised personnel from both countries including over 70 from US government agencies, had worked for nine months to clean the site. Often without adequate protective clothing or decontamination measures. In total, two million litres of contaminated ice and debris were shipped to the US in steel tanks and buried, bomb fragments were recycled by the Pantex plant in Amarillo Texas.


    The incident was the subject of much controversy at the time and in the following 40 years. Danish authorities had discovered in 1965 that the Americans were storing nuclear weapons at Thule against their wishes. The accident was therefore seen as a breach of Denmark's nuclear free zone policy and caused much diplomatic friction. The accident also signalled the end of the "Chrome Dome" airborne alert system, which had become untenable from a political, and economic point of view. Years later in 2000, reports started to surface in the Danish press, that contrary to earlier assurances, one of the bombs had not been recovered. In 2008, the BBC obtained recently declassified confirming that the fourth weapon had in fact been lost.

    The clean-up effort resulted in law suits filed by relief workers in later years, many of whom were affected by the radiation. Unlike their military counterparts, the Danish civilians involved in the clean up operation claim that their health was not monitored in subsequent years for signs of radiation sickness, prompting the Thule workers' association to threaten to take their government to the European Court of Justice.

    The crash and subsequent contamination have continued to haunt those involved in the incident - and those who live in the region now - with continued concerns over the environmental and health impact of the events of that day in 1968.

    Source: Wikipedia - B-52 crash at Thule Air Base

    Source: Bbc.co.uk - Mystery of lost US nuclear bomb

    Declassified US government video of Thule clear-up - Courtesy of bbc.co.uk

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    Posted on Saturday, January 17 @ 22:35:59 MST by sonicbom
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