For seven airmen in 1968, the frigid climate of Thule, Greenland, became too much to bear. What resulted was one of the most deleterious nuclear accidents in history.
The cockpit of HOBO 28 - a B-52G carrying four live thermonuclear weapons - was freezing. So cold, in fact, third pilot Major Alfred D'Mario unlocked a conduit leading from the engine that would take the chill off things.
Instead of creating more tolerable flying conditions, though, the compartment became overheated, as four stowed seat cushions caught flame. Upon uncovering the fire's source, the plane's navigator unsuccessfully attempted to extinguish the blaze.
Let's stop for a minute and ponder the insanity of this scenario. Live hydrogen bombs are less stable than celebrity weddings. Why are these potential cataclysms being flown above the planet?
Six hours into the mission - roughly 90 miles from Thule Air Base - Captain John Haug radioed air traffic control, notifying them of the situation. After exhausting all on board fire extinguishers, smoke filled the cabin to the point the airmen could barely see their instruments, much less read them. Around that time, the plane's electrical power ceased.
Another interjection to the military: "Thanks for playing Affirm You're a Lunatic! Congratulations! You've Won!"
With no way to land, except for a powerless glide onto treacherous ice, Haug prepared to abandon the craft. Being so far from an outpost, the airplane was surrounded by blackness. It wasn't until several excruciating minutes later pilot D'Mario announced they were over the illuminations of Thule Air Base.
Six of the crew abandoned the aircraft. Copilot Leonard Svitenko - who had no access to an ejection seat - was killed whilst attempting to exit the plane via a hatch in the fuselage.
While Haug and D'Mario landed inside the confines of the military facility, three other crew members were rescued within one and a half miles of the base.
Captain Curtis R. Criss was discovered by dog teams roughly 21 hours later, in －23 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Having suffered hypothermia atop an ice floe, the officer had only been able to survive, due to his parachute, which he'd wrapped around himself for heat.
Upon abandonment, the plane became a toxic ghost ship - nuclear cargo aboard without a crew. Hurtling forth at speeds exceeding 500 miles per hour, the craft descended and exploded into the ice of North Star Bay, at least seven miles beyond Thule Air Base.
The resultant fireball was the ultimate dirty bomb - a radioactive munition combined with traditional explosives - as the conventional propellants within all four weapons detonated. Fortunately, no fissile discharges were triggered, and the blasts weren't intense enough to initiate a critical reaction.
The temperature of the resulting fire, due to 225,000 pounds of airplane fuel, melted a sizable hole through the ground - which consisted of solid ice. As a result, debris and whatever was left of the bombs, sunk to the floor of the ocean below. A 2,200 foot swatch of ice was stained black by aviation fuel and highly radioactive discharge - including americium, plutonium, tritium and uranium.
From this catastrophe, Project Crested Ice - a cleanup operation about as efficacious as opening a snowplow business in Miami, Florida - was born. Conversationally designated Dr. Freezelove, this mitigatory undertaking was a race against time. With spring imminent, portions of ice mass would melt, resulting in radioactive areas sinking, thus contaminating the oceans.
What was known as the "zero line" demarcated a one by three mile expanse where Geiger counters were picking up high levels of alpha radiation. With temperatures averaging －40 degrees Fahrenheit, and 90 mile per hour winds, workers toiled in continual darkness, save for the generator lights of a makeshift compound.
In the end, approximately 700 folk labored for nine months to assuage the cataclysm, and prevent a greater catastrophe. Often, these frigid souls worked with insufficient protection from the deadly contaminant they were handling.
One of the secondaries - the main destructive force of the bombs - remains lost to this day. Although Strategic Air Command (SAC) asserted all four weapons had been accounted for, it was later determined the armed forces lied to the media. Such was an aberrant occasion in the same way the sunrise has been a serious shocker for the past 6,000 years.
An ensuing SAC report predicated:
An analysis by the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) of the recovered secondary components indicated recovery of 85% of the uranium and 94%, by weight, of three secondaries. No parts of the fourth secondary have been identified.
In plain English, the baddest part of one of the bombs was never found, and had most likely melted through the ice.
Ain't nothin' like a huge ball of radioactivity restin' on the ocean floor to contaminate sea life, and hence seafood, for hundreds of thousands of years. Military intelligence?
Sounds like an oxymoron to me.