Nuclear weapon lost during Cold War reportedly discovered off British Columbia

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Canadian Diver Makes Historical Find

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A B-36 bomber flying a secret, simulated nuclear-strike mission crashed over British Columbia in 1950.

Before it went down, the crew released the Mark IV nuclear bomb it was carrying. It would become the United States' first "broken arrow," a military term for an accident involving nuclear weapons.

The plane wreckage was discovered a few years later. However the bomb was never recovered.

Until Canadian diver Sean Smyrichinsky, who was looking for sea cucumbers, discovered what he described as a strange, perfectly smooth, rock formation last month about 50 miles from the plane crash site.

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"I think every diver wants to find a pot of gold," Smyrichinsky told The Washington Post. "But you never expect to see this or something like this."

This prize might be the long-lost Cold War nuclear weapon.

The bomber's 24-hour flight plan began in Alaska before flying over San Francisco to carry out a simulated nuclear attack on the city.

"It was just training," Dick Thrasher, a gunner on the crew, told The San Francisco Chronicle. "They considered the B-36 to be what was keeping Russia from attacking us. It was a mission to more or less duplicate what we would do if we were to bomb Russia."

But the weather was unfavorable. Ice built up on the wings. Three of the plane's six engines caught fire. The plane hit a storm near the coast of British Columbia and the crew jumped out with their parachutes. Five of the flight's 17 crew members did not survive.

"We got to 17,000 feet and the carburetors iced up, and then three engines caught fire," Thrasher said. "The pilot said we had to bail out, but that before we did we had to go out over the water and get rid of this nuclear weapon. So we did that. And as we got back to the shoreline, he said, 'Bail out.' "

The bomb contained about 5,000 pounds of uranium but not the plutonium core needed for detonation. The crew said that before the plane crashed, the pilot released it over the ocean, leading to a conventional explosion.

Although there was a massive search effort, the plane was not discovered until 1953 when the U.S. Air Force was searching for a lost prospector from Texas, according to the Royal Aviation Museum. The plane was located hundreds of miles away and in the opposite direction from the supposed crash site.

After Smyrichinsky made the discovery, he contacted the Royal Canadian Navy.

"They called me right back," Smyrichinsky told The Post. "They were very excited about it."

The Canadian Navy is exploring the discovery site to determine what the object is and invited Smyrichinsky along, according to the CBC. They will have a search crew in the area within the next few weeks.

Maj. Steve Neta of the Canadian Armed Forces said the site does match up with the crash location but the lost bomb is likely a "dummy capsule," not a nuclear weapon.

 "Nonetheless, we do want to be sure and we do want to investigate it further," Neta told the CBC.

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