The US has straight up LOST eight nuclear warheads since 1950 … and those are just the ones we know of
"Broken Arrows" are more common than any of us want to believe
There are some things that get lost, which are understandable: we’ve all misplaced our keys or our wallets. We’ve all forgotten coats or jackets places and we’ve all lost track of sunglasses or hats. These things happen.
But, then there are certain things that should never, under any circumstances, ever get lost. Things that are extremely valuable (for one reason or another): paintings like The Mona Lisa, high profile people like world leaders, historical landmarks like the Washington Monument, and, of course, apocalyptically powerful weapons like nuclear warheads.
Well, unfortunately, no matter how important or valuable something might be, the more of them you have, the easier it is to lose one… or two… or even, a few. And when it comes to nuclear warheads, the US has roughly 4,018 of them either in storage or deployment.
Some of which, have actually been lost over the years.
I don’t have to explain why that’s a bad thing. Bombs with the power to level entire cities are dangerous things to lose. Nevertheless, lose them we did. The military even has a special term for lost warheads: “Broken Arrows.”
There are at least 8 of these broken arrows out there — and let’s face it, probably more than that. I can’t imagine the military likes to admit to having lost something so catastrophically deadly.
Anyway, here are the stories behind theos 8 we know were “misplaced.”
Broken Arrow #1 – February 13th of 1950: Ditch the Fat Man!
An American B52 bomber en route from Alaska to Texas suffered a mechanical failure, and three of the planes four engines lost power. The crew members, fearing the worst, made a split-second decision: they were either going to crash into the ocean and likely die, or they were going to jettison the plane’s cargo, lighten the load and coast back to land where they could safely put the plane down.
Those brave men, chose the latter option. They opened the cargo door and discharged everything they were carrying, including a 30-kilaton Mark 4 nuclear warhead (a “Fat Man”). It fell into the Pacific and was never recovered.
To this day, the bomb and its uranium components are still out there somewhere.
Broken Arrow #2 and 3 – March 10th 1956: Vanished into the Clouds
Just six years after the first incident in 1950, another military plane (a B47 this time) was headed overseas, carrying two (count ‘em TWO) nuclear warheads onboard. The military never disclosed what kind of warheads they were, but B47’s are usually used to transport Mark 15 thermonuclear warheads — two of which would yield an explosive potential of 3.4 megatons.
They’re big bombs, in other words. Even bigger than the Fat Man that was lost in the Pacific.
Anyway, this unlucky B47 was undergoing air-to-air refueling when it was suddenly engulfed in a thick and impenetrable cloud bank at around 14,500 feet. It never came out of that cloud bank. No wreckage was ever found of the plane, and neither was its massive payload of nuclear warheads.
Broken Arrow #4 – February 5th, 1958: The Tybee Possibility
During a simulated combat mission, another B47, carrying a single Mark 15 thermonuclear weapon, collided in mid-air with a F86 fighter jet. The jet was destroyed and the bomber experienced massive damage, though it stayed air-born. The panicked crew requested permission to jettison their payload, and permission was granted. So they kicked that thermonuclear warhead out the back and it vanished without a trace into the dark ocean below, somewhere off the coast of Tybee island off of Georgia.
There is debate as to whether or not that bomb actually had a functioning plutonium core, though. The airforce has remained adamant over the years that the bomb was not functional – but the then secretary of defense claimed during a Congressional testimony that it was a “complete weapon, a bomb with a nuclear capsule.”
No one really knows, and we likely never will. The bomb, active plutonium core or no, was never located.
Broken Arrow #5 – January 24th, 1961: The Swamp Nukes
The B52 carrying two 24-megaton nuclear warheads, had almost made it to the runway of the Seymore Johnson Airforce Base, before it crashed into the swampland nearby. The plane had sprung an emergent fuel leak, and had been directed to make an emergency landing at the base.
However, the leak was too bad, and the plane couldn’t keep its altitude. The crew ejected and landed safely. One of the nuclear warheads was found hanging from its parachute in-tact in a tree. The other, however, quickly sunk into the soft marshland. The air force excavated the area, finding pieces of the explosive, but never recovered the bomb itself.
The bomb disposal expert in charge of disarming this lost nuclear weapon recalled when his team found the bombs arm/safe switch:
“Until my death I will never forget hearing my sergeant say, ‘Lieutenant, we found the arm/safe switch.’ And I said, ‘Great.’ He said, ‘Not great. It's on arm.’”
And it still is, somewhere down there under the mud. With no hope of finding the explosive itself, the USAF bought a permanent easement that requires government permission to dig in that area.
Broken Arrow #6 – December 5th, 1965: The big Japanese Oops
The USS Ticonderoga aircraft carrier was stationed some 80 miles off the coast of Japan after a bombing mission in Vietnam. There’s no knowing exactly what happened, maybe someone forgot to put the parking blocks under the wheels, or left the thing in neutral when they got out to use the bathroom. Regardless, a A-4E Skyhawk attack plane carrying a 1-megaton thermonuclear warhead, rolled off the deck of ship and sank beneath the surface of the waves.
For 15 years the military denied this incident, and when they finally owned up to it, they fibbed about where exactly this all happened. They made the claim that the bomb was lost 500 miles off Japan’s coast in the safety of the deep ocean.
We now know that’s a bunch of bullshit. Though, we still have no Earthly clue what happened to that bomb or where it’s at today.
Broken Arrow #7 and 8 – Some time in 1968: The Sunken Scorpion
A nuclear submarine known as the USS Scorpion was carrying 99 crew members and two nuclear warheads (of unspecified size) when it sank some 400 miles southwest of the Azores islands in the mid-Atlantic. Every single crew member died as the sub sank and imploded under “crunching forces.”
And (you guessed it) the two warheads that were on board were lost and never recovered. There were extensive dives to investigate the incident, but the mystery was never solved.
Broken Arrow #9? December 2019: Droning on in Colorado?
In December of 2019 residents in rural areas in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and Kansas started reporting mysterious drones, flying in numbers in perfect formations and in grid patterns across the land. There were hundreds of sightings, and drone enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists had a field day.
Not just because these drones seemed to be looking for something under the cover of darkness, not just because no one ever came forward and claimed them, but also because of the extremely advanced capabilities that these drones exhibited: they flew silently, and they could remain air-born for well-over an hour’s time.
Then, almost as quickly as the phenomenon had begun, it tapered off, and the public’s attention moved on to other stories. Answers remain elusive to this day. No one knows who those drones belonged to or what they were doing.
However, many speculated that those were military-owned drones. Who else would have technology so far ahead of the commercially available options? Who else would be able to get away with something like that, expect the military?
And on top of that, people noticed that these drones seemed to be flying around ICBM nuclear bases. Which led many to suggest that maybe, these drones were out there looking for a lost warhead…
It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.