53-Year-Old Nuclear Missile Accident Revealed

Megalith

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Five decades ago, airman Bob Hicks was dispatched to an incident at an underground silo: 60 miles northwest of Ellsworth AFB, and 3 miles southeast of the tiny community of Vale, SD, a warhead had popped off the top of a Minuteman Missile due to a short circuit and explosion. The accident, which was only recently disclosed through a FOIA request, suggests that close calls with nuclear weapons could be more frequent than we think.

The courageous actions Hicks took that night and over the next several days were not publicized. Each missile was tipped with a thermonuclear warhead that was many times more powerful than either of the two atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan during World War II. One government agency reportedly estimated that the detonation of an early 1960s-era Minuteman warhead over Detroit would have caused 70 square miles of property destruction, 250,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries.
 

DeathFromBelow

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“The warhead,” the team chief said, “is no longer on top of the missile.”
...

When Hicks was sent to the accident on Dec. 5, 1964, he was only 20 years old, and the cryptic statement from his team chief was the only information he was given.

“That was enough,” Hicks recalled, “to cause me to get dressed pretty quickly.”

Some airman had a really, really bad day...
 

Krenum

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Wow, great article! I thoroughly enjoyed it! Glad he had a great career afterwards, you did Texas proud Mr. Hicks!
 
D

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He was relatively safe (from radiation). But I have to admit, I would have even sweated that one.

The engineers who design the warhead casings design them to survive complete and total failure from of the missile. Even if the missile shot straight up and then the rocket exploded just as it ran out of fuel, and the warhead slammed into the ground, it would be intact. And if entered the thermosphere, it will cook itself on reentry.


The rocket shell itself is so weak, the have to fill it with an inert liquid to support the structure. (Imagine stepping on an empty soda can versus a filled one) Although items like the retro rockets are always filled with active fuel.

Without a couple thousand missiles in your inventory, do you not think that one of them will fail? That is why you design them so tough.
 
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Mchart

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The things are practically inert. What's more scary are the giant concrete sled doors that have explosive charges attached to them and will fly 1/4 mile off the silo if needed.
 

OldBuzzard

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That article is a bit on the 'dishonest' side.

That "Broken Arrow" event has been public record for a long, LONG time.

Shucks, you can find it on Wikipedia, a well as the one that I personally visited when I was 5 years old.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_nuclear_accidents

I lived on a farm on the outskirts of Lebanon OH, and in July 13, 1950, a B-50 with a nuke onboard crashed in a cornfield less than 5 miles from our farm.

My dad took me to the site, and I can still remember the huge hole in the ground and seeing still smoldering engines laying on the ground.

We, and a lot of other local farmers were actually there poking around well before any emergency workers showed up.

Of course, we had no idea that it was a Broken Arrow event. We just thought it was a crash.
 

Krenum

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That article is a bit on the 'dishonest' side.

That "Broken Arrow" event has been public record for a long, LONG time.

Shucks, you can find it on Wikipedia, a well as the one that I personally visited when I was 5 years old.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_nuclear_accidents

I lived on a farm on the outskirts of Lebanon OH, and in July 13, 1950, a B-50 with a nuke onboard crashed in a cornfield less than 5 miles from our farm.

My dad took me to the site, and I can still remember the huge hole in the ground and seeing still smoldering engines laying on the ground.

We, and a lot of other local farmers were actually there poking around well before any emergency workers showed up.

Of course, we had no idea that it was a Broken Arrow event. We just thought it was a crash.

Wow, that's amazing you were there! That must have been a heck of a sight, I remember reading about that.
 

DarkStar_WNY

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An interesting read, although it's easy to understand why such information is kept quiet, I mean any problem with anything related to nuclear weapons and people immediately think we were a heartbeat away from a terrible nuclear explosion, as they seem to think of warheads as these fragile things which will detonate at the slightest touch, and of course the media always plays up that angle to sell papers or get viewers. For example, in this case, those working on the retrieval were at considerable risk, due to conventional explosives, in the missiles and silos (ranging from fuel in the missiles to explosive charges between stages, in the warhead and even on the silo doors, as well as from any potential leakage of radiation from the warhead, but there wasn't really a risk of a nuclear explosion.
 

daglesj

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Lots of gaffes have happened. Bombers at on airfields where the crews thought they were loaded with dummies for a few days...only they weren't. Bomb silos where the doors were left ajar for the local Pizza delivery guy to bring the daily order in.

And many many more...
 

Vucelick

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Years ago I actually went on an exploratory scuba dive in the flooded silos of this facility. The local dive club later would take people on guided tours. Later the land owner felt his liability was too much and discontinued the tours.
 

Comixbooks

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1960s titan 1 missiles from the JFK era that is what I seen one part of that silo they built is x10 6' foot thick doors in a row.
 
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choppedliver

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The things are practically inert. What's more scary are the giant concrete sled doors that have explosive charges attached to them and will fly 1/4 mile off the silo if needed.

Yep. The door weighs about 110 tons , uses ballistic gas generator to yank that door off in half a second
 

BulletDust

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I find these old underground silos fascinating. I can't believe how many American's literally had a nuke in the property over their back fence in the day...
 
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