B-52 Crash on the icecap

I would like to share with you an experience that happened to me at Thule AFB many years ago. It was January 21, 1968. I do not recall the exact time or whether it was night or day since we were amid the so called dark season at the time. I was 21 years old and serving as an air policeman.

It all started with a visit to the tower that day. One air traffic controller, TSgt Jay Gore, was on duty. He was a personal friend and choir director for the base chapel. He had invited me to tour the tower. As I recall, Jay and I talked casually as he tended to his duties. It was very slow and there was virtually no activity on the runway or in the surrounding pattern. He made very few radio transmissions with either ground personnel or aircraft aloft. I remember feeling disappointed that there wasn't more activity since I wanted to witness the workings of a tower operation. The tower was dimly lit and void of the digital instruments one would see today. Jay also explained that the building itself was one of the last wooden structures in the Air Force.

Suddenly our conversation was interrupted by a phone call from Radar and Approach Control reporting that there was a B-52 on approach who was declaring an in-flight emergency. Jay became very alert and we immediately ceased our conversation. He poised himself at the console facing south toward the active runway, although he didn't seem particularly alarmed at that point. He said that it was not uncommon for such an occurrence with a B-52 since it was an old airplane. I was standing to his right and also facing south. As he turned on the runway lights and the strobes began to flash the location of the threshold, he asked me to be looking for navigational lights and to scan the nearby airspace. I immediately focused my attention toward the east thinking that I might see landing lights as he made his approach to the runway. Suddenly the entire tower was lit up like daylight. Jay's eyes widened with shock as he exclaimed, "My God, they crashed!" I turned my attention to the west in time to see a mushroom cloud forming on the ice several miles away. A shock wave immediately struck the tower and I imagined that this must be some kind of nuclear explosion. Phones began to ring off the hook and the radio crackled with activity. I quickly departed the tower and on my way down the steps I remember seeing a service cap brim filled with scrambled eggs pass by me as a officier ascended the tower.

As it turned out this was the beginning of a four month cleanup operation of the crash and the four hydrogen bombs that had gone down that day. I was involved with the cleanup along with about 1300 Danes and some Eskimo people. When we came off the ice, the Geiger counters hummed as they scanned our clothing. I am 53 and have not experienced any ill effects that would cause me to wonder about my exposure.

   

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