Mark 17 Bomb Accident Site, New Mexico

In May of 1957 a thermonuclear bomb fell out of an airplane and landed on Mesa del Sol, one mile southeast of the Albuquerque Airport. The hydrogen bomb, a Mark 17 model, was one of the largest and most powerful weapons ever made by the United States. It weighed 42,000 pounds and had a design yield of 15 to 20 megatons of TNT, 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs used in World War II. The bomb fell through the closed bomb bay doors of the plane, which was approaching Kirtland at an altitude of 1,700 feet. It was destroyed on impact. Though a chain reaction was impossible, as the plutonium pits were stored separately on the plane, the accident spread radioactive fuel material and parts over a wide area. The Air Force cleaned up the site in secret, though fragments of the bomb (some radioactive still) can be found in the area. It is one of more than 30 known Broken Arrow incidents involving the accidental loss or destruction of a nuclear weapon.