There’s a Nuclear Warhead Trapped Somewhere Under Greenland’s Ice

January 29, 2015 6:44 pm Last Updated: January 29, 2015 6:57 pm

Seemingly forgotten to history, a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber with four hydrogen bombs on board crashed in Greenland, located 750 north of the Arctic Circle.

The plane went down in January 1968 near Thule Air Base after a cabin fire forced the crew to abandon the plane. Six crew members were able to eject out of the plane but one died.

Three of the four bombs were accounted for and were the subject of a lengthy cleanup effort, involving both U.S. and Danish officials. None of the bombs actually went off as they weren’t armed by the crew.

The BBC reported several years ago that the fourth nuclear warhead was abandoned in the ice after a massive operation to recover the debris resulted in the collection of 500 million gallons of ice–some of which had radioactive materials from the bombs.

The location of the Thule Air Base in Greenland (Google Maps)
The location of the Thule Air Base in Greenland (Google Maps)

For years, the Pentagon said all four of the weapons were “destroyed” until the BBC, via the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, uncovered the real story.

According to the Daily Mail, one section of a declassified document said, “Speculate something melted through ice such as burning primary or secondary,” referring to a blackened section of the ice. The publication notes that a “warhead” was basically left under the ice.

The search had a number of problems, and the search was eventually abandoned.

In a BBC piece on Thursday, it notes that “questions remain over whether all were recovered.”

Jens Zinglersen, who was a Greenland representative, told the BBC Thursday said that at the time, he didn’t realize how bad it was. “I could smell it. It smells like diesel fuel. I could see a great, big, black area on the ice,” he said of the wreckage when he was sent out to find it.

He said he built a makeshift heliport and igloos at the crash site to aid in the recovery.

The X-51A WaveRider, attached to the inner wing of a B-52 Spirit, flew its fourth and final mission May 1, 2013, over the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bobbi Zapka)
The X-51A WaveRider, attached to the inner wing of a B-52 Spirit, flew its fourth and final mission May 1, 2013, over the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bobbi Zapka)

He noted there’s many unanswered questions.

“I’m not sure that they’ll ever be answered,” he said. “The whole thing is sort of fenced in with secrecy. And we cannot get any further.”

The Thule Base was set up as a counter-balance to the growing Soviet threat. The base–and the bombers–were located about 2,700 miles from Moscow.

“The incident was the subject of much controversy at the time and in the following 40 years. Danish authorities had discovered in 1965 that the Americans were storing nuclear weapons at Thule against their wishes. The accident was therefore seen as a breach of Denmark’s nuclear free zone policy and caused much diplomatic friction,” reads a post from SonicBomb.com.