The Broken Arrow Project: Visualizing the Dangers of Maintaining the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal

May 22, 1957 - Kirtland Base, New Mexico

DOD: The aircraft was ferrying a weapon from Biggs Air Force Base, Texas, to Kirtland Air Force Base. At 11:50 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, while approaching Kirtland at an altitude of 1700 feet, the weapon dropped from the bomb bay taking the bomb bay doors with it. Weapon parachutes were deployed but apparently did not fully retard the fall because of the low altitude. The impact point was approximately 4.5 miles south of the Kirtland control tower and .3 miles west of the Sandia Base reservation. The high explosive material detonated, completely destroying the weapon and making a crater approximately 25 feet in diameter and 12 feet deep. Fragments and debris were scattered as far as one mile from the impact point. The release mechanism locking pin was being removed at the time of release. (It was standard procedure at that time that the locking pin be removed during takeoff and landing to allow for emergency jettison of the weapon if necessary.) Recovery and cleanup operations were conducted by Field Command, Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. Radiological survey of the area disclosed no radioactivity beyond the lip of the crater at which point the level was 0.5 milliroentgens. There were no health or safety problems. Both the weapon and capsule were on board the aircraft but the capsule was not inserted for safety reasons. A nuclear detonation was not possible.

CDI: In a New York Times report of the 1968 list of accidents, there is mention of a B-36 bomber dropping an atomic bomb near Kirtland Air Force Base in 1956 that was publicly reported. Either a similar event did occur in 1956 or it has been confused with this event.

Inadvertent Explosion
"Nuclear weapons are designed with great care to explode only when deliberately armed and fired. Nevertheless, there is always a possibility that, as a result of accidental circumstances, an explosion will take place inadvertently. Although all conceivable precautions are taken to prevent them, such accidents might occur in areas where weapons are assembled and stored, during the course of loading and transportation on the ground, or when actually in the delivery vehicle, e.g., an airplane or a missile."

Atomic Energy Commission/Department of Defense

The Effects of Nuclear Weapons



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