BROKEN ARROWS: Nuclear Warheads Go Missing Far More Often Than Anyone Should Be Comfortable With

Titan II ICBM loaded in the silo. Note hole in the side of the warhead – ensuring that the warhead is inert.

US Air Force officials yesterday admitted to AP that officers who held the launch keys to nuclear-tipped missiles were caught leaving open a blast door.

As in, the blast door that stops intruders from entering an underground command post and compromising secret launch codes.

The officers also took naps while on duty, the Air Force said.

Alarmingly, they even admitted it happened undetected “many more times” than in the recent case of the four officers, who they revealed were given administrative punishments earlier this year.

It hasn’t been a good few years for Air Force nuclear commands. In 2007, a B-52 bomber mistakenly left armed with six nuclear tipped warheads flew over the country.

The dangers of such flyovers was only recently made clear, when Freedom of Information Act files revealed how the military nearly nuked North Carolina.

So just in case you ever thought this kind of thing only happened in John Woo movies, here’s a cheery reminder of a whole bunch of deadly payloads that haven’t yet been accounted for.

March 10, 1956. Over the Mediterranean Sea

B-47 Stratojet. Picture: Wikipedia

On a non-stop mission from MacDill Air Force Base to an overseas base, a USAF B-47 Stratojet descends over the Mediterranean for an in-air refuelling and simply vanishes.

Unrecovered payload: Two nuclear weapon cores.

July 28, 1957. Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean
A USAF C-124 aircraft from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware experiences a power loss. The crew jettison its nuclear cargo into the Atlantic Ocean as a safety precaution.

Unrecovered payload: Two nuclear bombs.

February 5, 1958. Over Savannah, Georgia, USA

Mk 15 hydrogen bomb. Picture: Wikipedia

A USAF B-47 bomber collides midair with a USAF F-86 Sabre during a simulated combat mission.
The F-86’s pilot ejects and parachutes to safety. The B-47’s pilot tries to land three times, then jettisons his payload near Tybee Island, Georgia before finally landing safely. A 3-square-mile (7.8 km2) search near Wassaw Sound is called off after nine weeks.

Unrecovered payload: One Mark 15 Mod 0 nuclear bomb.

25 September 1959. Whidbey Island, Washington.
A US Navy P-5M Marlin patrol aircraft conducting a mission off Whidbey Island, Washington, crashes into Puget Sound.

Unrecovered payload: One unarmed nuclear depth charge, minus fissile core.

24 January 1961. North Carolina
An Air Force B-52 carrying leaks fuel in the right wing and explodes midair.
Three of eight crew die and two weapons come free of the plane. One lands safely after after its parachute deploys.
The other breaks apart on impact. It’s plutonium is found after a massive search, but most of the thermonuclear stage and highly enriched uranium is missing. To this day, the property is fenced off and monitored regularly.

Unrecovered payload: Uranium from a 20-megaton Mk 39 hydrogen bomb.

20 June 1962. Johnston Atoll, Pacific Ocean.

Thor missile. Picture: Wikipedia

An attempt to detonate a nuclear weapon at high altitude fails when a booster rocket shuts down prematurely.
The vehicle is destroyed but the nuclear device being tested falls into the Pacific Ocean. The incident has not yet been acknowledged by the US government.

Unrecovered payload: One “nuclear device”.

December 5, 1965. Coast of Japan

The B43 nuclear bomb. Picture: Wikipedia

In high seas, a U.S. Navy A-4E Skyhawk aircraft rolls off the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga into 16,200 feet (4,900 m) of water. The pilote, planet and its weapon are never recovered.
Unrecovered payload: one B43 nuclear bomb
21 January 1968. Greenland.
Fire breaks out on board an American B-52 from New York in the Arctic Circle. The plane crashes 7 miles (11 km) short of the Thule AFB runway in Greenland.
It explodes and the casing on one of its four nuclear bombs is believed to have detonated.
Another is recovered, but the remaining two fell through the melting ice to the floor of Baffin Bay. Only one is recovered.

Unrecovered payload: One nuclear bomb.

May 22, 1968 – 740 km southwest of the Azores in the North Atlantic.

The USS Scorpion. Picture: Wikipedia

The USS Scorpion (SSN-589) sinks en route from Rota, Spain, to Naval Base Norfolk. All 99 officers and men on board are killed.
The cause of the sinking is unknown.

Unrecovered payload: Two Mark 45 torpedoes with W34 nuclear warheads

12 April 1970. Bay of Biscay, Spain.

Soviet November class attack submarine K-8 sinks after a fire breaks out in two aft compartments, killing 52 members of its crew.
K-8 is carrying 24 tactical atomic torpedoes, only four of which are found inside the wreck.

Unrecovered payload: Up to 20 tactical atomic torpedoes.

6 October 1986. North of Bermuda.

The K-219 in distress. Picture: Wikipedia

A missile tube begins leaking on board Soviet Yankee I class ballistic missile submarine K-219. Water mixes with liquid rocket propellants and the buildup of gases causes an explosion.
K-219 then sinks while being towed back to port along with its two nuclear reactors and 16 nuclear missiles.

Unrecovered payload: Each missile carried two warheads and the submarine also may have held two nuclear torpedoes.
That’s a total of 34 nuclear warheads.

Hat tip to AerospaceWeb for the excellent research.

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