18. An American nuclear bomb exploded spreading plutonium over Spanish farms
On January 17, 1966, a USAF B-52 carrying four hydrogen bombs was returning to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, after participating the Strategic Air Command’s air alert mission code-named “Chrome Dome”. During the third mid-air refueling with a USAF KC-135 the nozzle of the jet tanker’s boom struck the bomber, ripping open the B-52 along its spine and snapping the bomber into several pieces. The 40,000 gallons of jet fuel carried by the KC-135 ignited, killing all four crew aboard the jet tanker and three airmen on the B-52; four members of the bomber’s crew successfully jettisoned and parachuted to safety.
Two of the hydrogen bombs’ conventional explosives detonated upon ground impact, spreading plutonium over nearby farms in Palomares, Spain, with total wreckage from the crash dispersing across over 100 square miles of land and water. During the resulting clean-up operation, 1,500 tonnes of radioactive soil and tomato plants were transported to a nuclear waste dump in Aiken, South Carolina. The United States Government also settled claims by 552 Palomares residents for $600,000, while the town of Palomares was also provided $200,000 to construct a desalinization plant.
The third bomb landed intact, also near Palomares, whilst the fourth landed 12 miles off the coast in the Mediterranean Sea. The latter resulted in the one of the largest search and recovery operations in history, dramatized in the motion picture “Men of Honor”. Taking approximately 80 days and involving 12,000 men, including 3,000 US Navy personnel, 33 Navy vessels, and countless aircraft, amphibious craft, and specialist equipment, the bomb was eventually successfully retrieved on April 7.