9: 30 b .: NATO Moron de la Frontera base near Seville; takeoff of a KS-135 tanker with 110 tons of kerosene on board. The crew of Major Chapl was faced with the usual refueling of the next “client” in a safe air corridor off the coast of allied Spain;
10: 05 B .: The client, the 8-B-52 B-4 “Stratofortress” US Air Force from the base in North Carolina, was from the armada of “stratospheric fortresses” that walked around the globe around the globe with gifts around the clock "On board for the" evil empire. " Now they were 28 thermonuclear bombs “B25” with 1250 megatons each (i.e., 140 is more powerful than Hiroshima “Kid” who instantly killed 6 thousand people); XNUMX minutes left until the rendezvous with the tanker;
10: 11 b.: 8 kilometers from the coast; both cars at the calculated point; speed 600 km / h, height 9300 m, distance 50 m. When etching the refueling hose, the crew of the tanker noticed with horror that the distance between the cars began to decrease. There was no time for a reaction: a bomber rammed the KS-135 into the lower part of the fuselage; one B-52 engine flared and immediately exploded, the flames engulfed the entire wing and instantly spread to the tanker. The blazing cars rushed forward;
10: 22 h .: 1 kilometer from Palomares: depressurization aboard the B-52; the commander turned on the emergency dumping of nuclear weapons and ordered the crew to eject. Only four out of seven managed to do this, because at the same moment the “stratospheric fortress” exploded ...
The planes crashed to the ground in a cloud of smoky explosions; the surviving pilots slowly descended under the domes of parachutes into the cold sea. They were lucky. Three of their comrades turned to ashes. The wreckage of giant cars scattered on the square 40 square. kilometers They burned down another 5 watch. Together with all this scrap metal, the load fell down. In fact, in the case of an emergency discharge, each of the bombs is lowered by parachute. However, in this case, the parachutes opened only two.
First bad news
“The bomb fell over there,” José Zamorra points to a weed-covered hill. Only the antenna and 4 of the Geiger counter in the opaque aluminum cases, looking in this area as traces of aliens, remind of the trouble in its field ...
One of the bombs fell unscathed into the dry bed of the Almansor River, and this was good news. However, 3 minutes before the other two bombs at speed 300 km / h crashed into the ground: one in the center of the village, and the second on this field. From the impact of their TNT charges, the shell was broken, and 20 kg of weapons-grade plutonium-239 was ejected by a cloud of monstrous radioactivity, infecting the area within a radius of several kilometers. This was the first bad news.
And 1500 villagers did not even suspect that they really fell on their heads. Many continued to work in the fields, including Jose Zamorra’s father. Seeing and getting out of the parachute of the seriously wounded pilot, he threw his simple inventory and took the American to the hospital. He was lucky that he was no longer allowed back to the field that day or until the end of his life.
Meanwhile, under the veil of secrecy has already begun vigorous activity. The Pentagon began operation "Broken Arrow" ("Broken Arrow"), provided for in case of accidents with nuclear weapons. At the site of the fall appeared parts of the Spanish police and army. The next morning, 300 Americans arrived. Military, state of emergency experts and scientists with a mass of equipment set up a strictly guarded campground. The settlement forgotten by God turned into the most important object of NATO. Without declaring the reasons, the zone with a radius of 10 km was cordoned off and declared forbidden. To the chagrin of the locals, foreigners in protective suits and with Geiger counters, who looked like Martians, trampled the surrounding fields, destroying the tomato seedlings with army boots, for which this area was especially famous.
Among the arrivals were many civilian experts puzzled over the question, why were they gathered here? But official Washington kept deathly silence.
When reinforcements arrived from the States, another 300 man, it became clear that the situation was more than serious. The Pentagon, in a stingy communique, finally admitted the emergence of an emergency situation: “A strategic aviation command bomber that crashed during refueling off the coast of Spain had nuclear weapons on board a safety platoon. Radiological examination of the area showed that there is no danger to people. ” So, the object has ceased to be a secret, although, apparently, something seriously did not work. After 18 hours after the disaster, 3 bombs were found on land, and officials continued to state that there was only one onboard the B-52.
Second bad news
... At the time of the collision of the aircraft, the Paco barge was about five kilometers from the coast. A flash in the sky distracted him from disentangling the net, where an orange "orange" of a monstrous explosion burst. A moment later came a rumble, burning fragments were already falling down. Soon, in 100 meters from him into the water flopped a long metal cylinder under a large gray parachute. The object immediately sank, but there was no time to deal with it either, because the fisherman rushed to rescue three pilots who had splashed down nearby. After returning home, Paco told about what he saw in the local police, but there they only shrugged their shoulders.
Only 1 of March, i.e., 7 weeks after the death of the aircraft, the Pentagon finally decided to publicly admit that several bombs had been lost. Two of them collapsed, discarding plutonium, whose half-life is 25 thousands of years. You just have to remove the topsoil from the 100 ha area, immerse it in 5 thousands of 200-liter barrels and bury it in a radioactive waste cemetery in the USA.
Everything fell into place. Over Palomares lost weapons, namely 4 hydrogen bombs, one of which was not found.
8 in March, Information Minister Manuel Fraga and US Ambassador Angiere Biddle Duke defiantly bathed in front of the cameras in the sea near Palomares. There is no radiation, everything is in order, a minor incident that does not happen to anyone. The sky was filled with search and rescue aircraft. Dozens of fishing vessels, boats, yachts, dry cargo ships and even tankers collected wreckage off the coast of a little-known village.
In Washington, at an emergency meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, it was decided that the Navy would be involved in the search and raising of the bombs lost in the sea, and the expenses would be paid for the branch of service that the weapons lost, that is, the Air Force. Rear Admiral William Gest, the deputy commander of the shock forces of the US Navy in Europe, was appointed head of the operation.
The bottom relief of Palomares is complex; rocky ground is crossed by gorges more than a kilometer deep; the rocks are covered with silt, which rises from the bottom at the slightest movement of water, impairing visibility.
A whole armada of vessels entered the water area: minesweepers, destroyers, rescue vessels with sonar and diving-search equipment. The search team has at its disposal all the best equipment from the available: Westinghouse sonar for researching the seabed, towed over the ground at a speed of 1 node; deep-sea television installation to transmit the image on the screen of the vessel escort from the depths to 600 m Sonning Corporation "Honeywell" to determine the distance to underwater objects, the direction of their movement and depth. At the request of US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, private American firms sent their experimental submersibles Alvin and Aluminut with crews to work as manipulators at depths up to 2 km.
The US Department of Oceanography has created a system of landmarks to determine the coordinates of both the search groups and the detected objects. A large group of submarine experts, including 130 divers and navy combat swimmers, joined the effort. The main consultant was Commander J. B. Muni himself, who discovered remnants of the dead Thresher nuclear submarine in the 1964 year from the Trieste bathyscaphe.
Analysts of the Navy using computers trying to establish the true coordinates of the aircraft at the time of the explosion. As a result of complex calculations, taking into account the places where bombs were detected on land, the zone most likely to drop a lost bomb was defined - a triangle with a height of 10 and a base of 20 miles. To simulate the situation with the bomber B-52 was dropped its layout, but he disappeared without a trace in the abyss. All new ships with the most sophisticated equipment arrived in the search area.
By March 9 found 358 items; 175 aircraft fragments from 300 grams to 10 tons were raised to the surface, but the bomb was not found. There were fears that strong tidal currents had dragged her into the sea; expanding the search area in half, the desired result was not achieved.
The works were organized according to a strict algorithm of mathematical calculations and logical constructions, based on the most modern equipment and technology. But when there was almost no hope left, they recalled the testimony of the fisherman Francisco, nicknamed Paco. Paco drove them to his section of the sea, patiently watching the Americans politely nod, plotting the coordinates of the object indicated by him at the landing, and then retracting. He did this experience several times with him: they sent him off the deck under any pretext, moved the ship, and then, as if by chance, asked if he was sure that the cylinder had fallen right here. But Paco invariably answered: “You moved away from that place: it is over there!” Making sure that the fisherman is one of the rare people endowed with phenomenal observation, Gest ordered: “The area around the place indicated by the witness should be considered the second likely area of a bomb falling.” In accordance with this, the underwater vehicle “Alvin” entered the area 15 in March and reached a depth of 777 m. Visibility was only 2,5 m, but a fragment of the parachute was noticed in the porthole immediately; The hydrogen bomb code name went to board the support ship: “Instrument board”. In order to find it, operating from the initial point indicated by Paco, it took just 80 minutes. And he has since been called "Paco el de la bomba" (Paco, who is with a bomb).
The bomb was found, but this is still half the battle. She was lying on the edge of a narrow cleft, and any careless movement could push her to the depths. In addition, there was a danger of charge detonation. To begin with, an answering machine for sonar recognition was attached to the parachute. After confirming by photographing that the find is indeed a bomb, she was given the code name "Robert." For lifting, a surface-controlled underwater vehicle with a mechanical hand-grip, designed to work at a depth of 600 m, was called. It was re-equipped to dive to 850 m, and March 25 was delivered from California to Palomares. Capture was too narrow for a bomb, and decided to take up the parachute. The storm raged, the lifting work was interrupted, and “Robert” began to crawl to the cleft, having moved to 90 m in 24 hours.
... April 7, i.e. after 3 weeks, attempts to raise the bomb were crowned with success. In 8: 45 hours, she appeared on the surface, spending minutes 79 hours and 22 days at the bottom of 23, 1 took hours 45 minutes to climb. Dosimetry showed no leakage of radiation; the sappers defused the detonators. On 10: 14, h. Admiral Gest uttered the phrase that concluded the Robert "odyssey": "The bomb has been defused." The next day, reporters were allowed to inspect and photograph her to curb the rumors. At this most expensive rescue operation ended. It involved the 18 US Navy ships, a mass of civilian ships, 4 submarines and 3800 people. Costs amounted to 84 million.
José stands on the ground, which only recently belonged to him and which is now taken away, as dangerous to health. In December 2005, he reluctantly signed some papers, where it was written that the site, like the other four, "becomes the property of the Spanish government in order to avoid risk." But why now, in 40 years? ”
True, back in 1998, suddenly it was recommended not to grow fruit and vegetables here. It is strange that during the last 30 years no one has given anyone such advice. Everything was considered a minor episode, the only consequence of which was the sudden worldwide fame of a small village.
October 8 2006 of the National Radio of Spain reported from Madrid with reference to the competent sources: "Spain and the United States signed an agreement to clean up the area near the village of Palomares, which continues to be contaminated with plutonium as a result of the crash of an aircraft with nuclear bombs in 1966 year." Not mentioned the date of signing the agreement, neither the date of commencement of work, nor the amount allocated for this, it says only that "the parties will divide the costs in half."
On the same day, a representative of the organization “Environmental Action” Juan Esribano said: “Our research confirmed: the Palomares area and the coast are contaminated with plutonium-239, which penetrated deep into the earth. When cleaning, conducted by the US military immediately after the catastrophe in the atmosphere of secrecy, radiation sources were removed only from the surface. "
However, information about the radioactive situation and the health of the local population in the press almost never got.