Remembering the Palomares Disaster

The remediation of nuclear waste has long been a classified endeavor. Accidents, exposure to radiation, and worker injuries on the job rarely, if ever, make the newspapers where they would receive public scrutiny. This is, of course, intentional. The less oversight, the easier it is to mislead and cover up mistakes. Take the case of the military’s Palomares disaster.

On January 17, 1966, a collision occurred during a routine refueling operation of a B-52 bomber over Spain’s Mediterranean coast.28 The Associated Press reported first on the incident, writing that a KC-135 tanker with jet fuel had collided in mid-air with a B-52.29

“At least five of the eleven crewmen aboard the two planes died in the crashes,” wrote the AP. “They collided miles above the earth. School children walking to their classes heard the rending of metal, then watched as smoke clouds erupted from the big planes as they spiraled down, scattered burning wreckage over a wide area.”

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JOSHUA FRANK is the managing editor of CounterPunch. He is the author of the new book, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, published by Haymarket Books. He can be reached at You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank.

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