“May 27, 1957 /B-36/ Kirtland AFB, New Mexico:

The aircraft was ferrying a weapon from Biggs AFB, Texas, to Kirtland AFB. At 11:50 a.m. MST, while approaching Kirtland at an altitude of 1,700 feet, the weapon dropped from the bomb bay taking the bomb 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. (*1)”
— DOD Narrative Summaries of Accidents Involving U.S. Nuclear Weapons, 1950-1980
An iconic scene from the 1964 black comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

An iconic scene from the 1964 black comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Mark-17 Broken Arrow - New Mexico -  May 27, 1957

(Or how I How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

The accident

In 1957, the United State Air Force dropped a bomb. Specifically, the largest weapon ever fielded, a 15 Megaton Mark-17 thermonuclear weapon, out of the bomb bay of a B-36 Peacemaker. This was not a planned nuclear test, nor was it on a remote test range. This event happened just miles from what is today the Albuquerque International Airport, and it was completely unintentional.

In an event that almost turned into scene reminiscent of Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove, the bomb was released from its harness, falling onto the bomb-bay doors, and eventually to the desert floor below, causing a large conventional explosion from the chemical high explosives used to compress the core in the primary of the Mark-17.

The Hunt

The loss of a Mark-17 was my first Broken Arrow investigation, and I first located the site of this accident in 2009. Like many of these expeditions, it took a few trips into the field to locate