New details of a ‘Broken Arrow’ incident in which a nuclear weapon was allegedly abandoned in the icy waters of a fjord near the US Air Force base at Thule, Greenland, have been unearthed by the BBC. The controversial January 1968 incident involved a B-52 which was carrying four B58 thermonuclear bombs while on airborne alert. During the mission a fire broke out beneath the cockpit and, when it began to get out of control, the crew issued a mayday and diverted towards Thule. With just a few miles to go before getting to the base, the fire became too intense and the commander ordered the crew to abandon the B-52. The BBC story includes interesting interviews with two of the original crew as well as some of the Danish personnel on the ground who helped clean up the debris. A far more detailed account of the incident can also be found here.
Is there a lost bomb down there? Greenland's west coast, 2008
(pic: Guy Norris)
There is much speculation as to whether the B58 weapons, or significant parts of them, could have possibly remained intact after the impact. Archive footage shows the aircraft had disintegrated into small pieces which were scattered over a wide area. Six of the crew ejected and were recovered safely whilst a seventh was killed in the crash.
However, previously declassified materials obtained by the BBC appear to indicate that only sufficient debris was recovered to account for three of the four weapons.
Whatever the result of the latest revelations, if any, there was a more immediate and positive outcome from the original accident. Following the crash, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered the removal of nuclear weapons from airborne alert to the relief of many USAF bomber crews these tedious missions were later suspended altogether.