August 29, 1986
By Jim Conley
® The El Paso Times
El PASO, Texas -- Three El Pasoans have vivid recollections of the day an Air Force bomber accidentally dropped a hydrogen bomb" near Albuquerque: They were on the plane.
Richard "Dick" Meyer, 62, (right in photo) a retired lieutenant colonel, said Thursday that he was piloting the B-36 bomber May 22, 1957, on a flight from Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso to Kirtland Air Force Base in
As Meyer prepared to land at Kirtland, the 10-megaton bomb — perhaps the largest ever built by the United States — slipped from its harness, crashed through the plane's bomb bay doors and fell 1,700
feet before exploding.
The non-nuclear explosion killed a cow, he said, but no people were injured, Jack Williams, 54, (left in photo) now a budget analyst for tpe Army's Air Defense Acquisition Threat Simulators near Fort Bliss, said he was a first lieutenant flight engineer when the incident happened.
And Jack Resen, now an El Paso investments executive who was a major assigned as electronic officer for the 95th Bomb Wing at Biggs in 1957, was simply along for the ride.
Meyer contacted the El Paso Times Thursday morning after reading a story about the bomb. The incident was revealed after more than 29 years when an Albuquerque newspaper obtained previously classified government documents about it.
Meyer, of northeast El Paso said he retired to El Paso in 1973 after 30 years in the Air Force. He was a captain in 1957.
He lives near Williams, who said he has been in El Paso most of the time since 1954. He was medically retired as a first lieutenant in the 1950s after being critically injured in a motorcycle accident.
Resen, a west El Paso resident, was put in touch with the Times Thursday after he contacted
local historian and bank public relations executive Leon Metz, who wrote a book about Fort Bliss and Biggs in 1981.
The former Air Force base now is Biggs Army Air Field.
Meyer, Williams and Resen said they were surprised to see the story published after so many years of secrecy.
They can laugh about many aspects of it now. In fact, they said there was some humor connected with it at the time, after no one was hurt or blamed for the apparent accident.
Meyer recalled of the day the bomb fell: "The scanner, a crew member stationed about halfway between the wings and the tail, could see what happened out his bubble.
"Simultaneously, he called 'Bombs away,' and the plane lurched upward about 1,000 feet when it lost so much weight at once," Meyer said.
"And someone yelled, 'Oh, (expletive).' It might have been me."
Williams said they heard a "dull thud" when the bomb hit.
And Meyer said, "We swung around and saw the plume of it ... more dust cloud than anything."
Resen said he was near the 'bomb bay when the young lieutenant who had been preparing the bomb for landing "came charging out of the bomb bay saying, 'I didn't touch anything. I didn't touch
anything.' It really made me laugh."
Meyer and Williams, who were with the 95th Bomb Wing's 334thBomb Squadron at the time, said they were flying the 42,500-pound bomb to Kirtland for routine maintenance when the accident happened.
Meyer, showing his copy of that day's flight log, said the crew was following the normal procedures when a nuclear weapon was carried across the country.
"A man goes back and inserts the manual locking pin (a safety pin that locks the bomb in) after you take off," Meyer said.
"Then, when you get where you're going, in the traffic pattern for a landing, a man crawls back to the bomb bay and takes out the pin, in case you wanted to salvo (release) the bomb due to a problem with the airplane."
Meyer said the big question at the time was whether the man who pulled the pin leaned against the cable. "He said he didn't. He said he had just pulled the pin and had one arm around a girder and the other pushing back from the bomb.
"It just ripped right straight through the bomb bay doors.The latches were still latched."
He and Williams said they recall that the man was 1st Lt. Bob Carp, a junior navigator they lost track of after he left the crew.
The bomb, 24 feet long and 5 feet in diameter, had three parachutes that deployed out the rear to stabilize its fall, said Meyer. "They were in the process 0f deploying when it hit.
"A light plane was in the area. It liked to have blown him out of the sky ... from the explosion."
Williams and Meyer said there was no danger of a nuclear explosion. "We weren't even carrying all the essential materials needed to arm it for dropping as a weapon," Meyer said. "Only in a wartime configuration would you have everything there."
He said the bomb was the first hydrogen bomb built to be carried by aircraft.
One researcher, interviewed by the Albuquerque Journal receititly, said the bomb was possibly the most powerful ever made by the U.S. and may have been more than 10 megatons.
That would be 625 times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
Meyer and Williams declined to say more about the bomb because they said they don't know what might still be classified about it.
But Meyer said the first hydrogen weapon used, supercooled hydrogen liquid and was exploded on a tower, being much too large for a plane.
He said the B-36 was the only bomber in the U.S. aresenal at the time that could carry the bomb that fell from their plane in 1957.
Williams said their B-36 that day was fairly light, carrying perhaps only about one-third of its 320,000 pound potential fuel load, due. to the short flight.
"That made it climb about 1,000 feet in 5 seconds after the bomb fell," Williams said.
The men said they landed at Kirtland without further incident, then spent all the next day being questioned by investigators, who interviewed each crew member separately and had them write down their stories, Williams said.
He and Meyer said the investigation probably took so little time because the bomb had fallen at the place the experts on nuclear bombs are located.
They agreed that if a bomb had to fall, it fell in the right place.
Meyer said he heard that besides the government having to pay a rancher for the dead cow, there was also a hefty bill for all the land that was torn up when the Air Force had all the debris and
surrounding dirt hauled away.
Williams and Meyer said they were told not to speak about the incident at the time.
Meyer said Thursday that two aircrews were on board, including three pilots, because other airmen may have been been heading elsewhere or just getting in needed flying time.
A fourth man who said he was a crew member told the Associated Press in Orangevale, Calif., Thursday that he didn't see the bomb fall but knew it had when the plane lurched upward.
George Houston, 61, a retired Air Force radio operator, said it was one of those things that's terrifying at the time but "funny afterward." He compared the incident to the final scene from the movie Dr. Strangelove, an early 1960s film in which Slim Pickens as an Air Force pilot rides a
nuclear bomb down on the Soviet Union after dislodging it from the bomb bay.
Houston said the crew immediately radioed back to the base about losing the bomb.
"We were met by quite a group of VIPs when we landed."