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Broken Arrow

A mid-air collision took place on Jan. 17, 1966 over Palomares, Spain.On January 17, 1966, an SAC B-52 had a mid-air collision with a KC-135 tanker while refueling over Palomares, Spain. The B-52 was carrying four thermonuclear B28 bombs. The bomber had begun the mission at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina. The KC-135 had come from the Moron Air Base, Spain. All four KC-135 crew members were killed, while four of the seven B-52 crew parachuted to safety.

President Lyndon Johnson, the Department of Defense, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Spanish Government received news of the nuclear accident. Nuclear safety teams were dispatched immediately. Within hours, the 16th Air Force had located the three B28 bombs that landed on the shore. However, the fourth bomb was missing; it was not found for 80 days. High explosives in two bombs had detonated on impact. Plutonium dust had spread over several hundred acres. One reassuring fact emerged from this incident: inherent safety features designed and built by Atomic Energy Commission contractors ensured that no nuclear explosion occurred.


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National Atomic Museum.