A Cold War Relic
In February 1950, during the early years of the Cold War, a U.S. B-36B bomber carrying an inactive Mark 4 atomic bomb left an air base in Alaska for a simulated drop on San Francisco. The bomb was blimp-like in its design – 3.25 meters long (10 feet) and 1.5 meters wide. It weighed 5 tons. The U.S. manufactured 550 of them between 1949 and 1953.
Best Laid Plans
The weather was unfavourable. Ice build-up on the wings, engine and tail caused the plane to lose altitude somewhere over the coast of British Columbia. Worse, three of its six engines caught fire. The 17-man crew was forced to bail out. But, before doing so, they were instructed to detonate the bomb over the Pacific Ocean, thereby making it impossible for the Soviets to find it.
The crew parachuted toward Princess Royal Island, off the Northern B.C. coast. Five men did not survive. The plane was set on autopilot and directed to crash into the Pacific.
Gripped by the Cold War mentality, the U.S. government immediately launched a massive effort to find the plane. The Royal Canadian Navy rescued the crew, but the plane was not discovered until 1953 when the U.S. Air Force was looking for a lost prospector from Texas. While flying over Northern British Columbia they stumbled across the wreckage of the lost bomber in the snow-covered mountains – hundreds of kilometres in the opposite direction from where it was supposed to crash. Quite inexplicably, the plane had circled back inland and crashed near Mt. Kologet in the Kispiox Valley (56.03N 128.32W) northeast of Terrace, B.C.
The following year, a U.S. military team went to the site with orders to destroy the aircraft. “They spent a couple of days blowing up the plane”, says John Clearwater, of Ottawa, the curator of the ‘Lost Nuke’ exhibition and a nuclear weapons expert. He supports the U.S. position that the bomb was dropped over the Pacific and that it contained only a lead dummy capsule, rather than a plutonium core needed to cause an atomic explosion.