Skip to comments.Stuck in a hole with a leaky nuclear missile
Posted on 03/24/2014 6:17:05 PM PDT by rickmichaels
On Sept. 18, 1980, at about 6:30 in the evening, Senior Airman David F. Powell and Airman Jeffrey L. Plumb walked into the silo at Launch Complex 374-7, a few miles north of Damascus, Arkansas. They were planning to do a routine maintenance procedure on a Titan II missile. Theyd spent countless hours underground at complexes like this one. But no matter how many times they entered the silo, the Titan II always looked impressive. It was the largest intercontinental ballistic missile ever built by the United States: Ten feet in diameter and 103 feet tall, roughly the height of a nine-story building. It had an aluminum skin with a matte finish and U.S. AIR FORCE painted in big letters down the side. The nose cone on top of the Titan II was deep black, and inside it sat a W-53 thermonuclear warhead, the most powerful weapon ever carried by an American missile. The warhead had a yield of 9 megatons about three times the explosive force of all the bombs dropped during the Second World War, including both atomic bombs.
Day or night, winter or spring, the silo always felt the same. It was eerily quiet, and mercury vapour lights on the walls bathed the missile in a bright white glow. When you opened the door on a lower level and stepped into the launch duct, the Titan II loomed above you like an immense black-tipped silver bullet, loaded in a concrete gun barrel, primed, cocked, ready to go, and pointed at the sky.
(Excerpt) Read more at fullcomment.nationalpost.com ...
Oh man, what a tease... the piece ends right when things got “interesting”. Boo!
I used to work with a guy who worked on the Titans. Not sure you really want to know what happened to these two.
More details: http://www.leagle.com/decision/1986721636FSupp85_1714
Active Duty/Retiree ping.
I wonder if this was the incident when the Titan II exploded in the silo, and the W53 warhead was found in a nearby field.
UDMH/hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide coming in contact is lethal.
the book is a good read and a bit scary. talks about other near incidents and you ccan imagine how much worse it was in the soviet union.
Either one of them alone is lethal.
Titan missiles were no fun, as the article states.
Someone should do a piece on the old Bomarc aerial defense missiles.
Someone forgot to ping me to this thread!
My dad worked on Bomarcs when he was stationed at Suffolk County AFB, LI from 1961-1964. We were there during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was in lockdown in the warhead bunkers for three weeks.
I first worked on the Titan II ICBM while in the USAF at VAFB, CA. and then again on it’s last Operational Test Flight as a Martin Marietta Electronics Tech, in the Summer of 1976 (ITF-1).
On September 19, 1980 during routine maintenance in a Titan II silo, an Air Force repairman dropped a heavy wrench socket, which rolled off a work platform and fell toward the bottom of the silo. The socket bounced and struck the missile, causing a leak from a pressurized fuel tank. The missile complex and the surrounding area were evacuated and a team of specialists was called in from Little Rock Air Force Base, the missile’s main support base. About 8 1/2 hours after initial puncture, fuel vapors within the silo ignited and exploded. The explosion fatally injured one member of the team. Twenty-one other USAF personnel were injured. The missile’s reentry vehicle, which contained a nuclear warhead, was recovered intact. There was no radioactive contamination. According to the Center for Defense Information(CDI): The explosion of volatile fuel blew off the 740 ton silo door of reinforced concrete and steel and catapulted the warhead 600 feet. It is estimated that Titan II ICBMs carry a 9 megaton warhead.
Thanks for “the rest of the story”.
second day warhead found just to right of access road in the drainage cut. Yes it did explode in silo and AF relied upon CBS station video to recreate what happened because of lousy communication headset when ventilation switched moved
When I was young there was a Nike Zeus AA site in the Highlands, to our north.
“When I was young there was a Nike Zeus AA site in the Highlands, to our north.”
In the 1960’s, I lived on Otis AFB, MA. My father was a member of the refueling team, that frequented the Bomarc missile site on the base. The Bomarc missile was a solid-fuel booster-equipped ramjet-propelled delta-winged aerial vehicle, not unlike an unmanned plane, nuclear warheaded design, meant to air-burst, in the middle of a flight of attacking bombers, some 200 miles off the coastline of the Cape. You can see that there are all sorts of nasties, just waiting to pop up. Solid rocket fuel, hydrazine for the ramjets, nuclear warheads, rubber protective suits, and the like.
That is now Francis S. Gabreski airport. I lived on LI for a while, near “ron-kon-coma”, as the Manhattanites called it. I am familiar with both the former Grumman fields in Bethpage and Calverton.
I was on Otis AFB during The Cuban Missile Crisis. That was an interesting moment in time.
Ref Gabreski Airport - I just watched a show on AHC last night about Gabby Gabreski. What a great story of a great ace! The man was fearless.
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