ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STUDY OF CRASH SITE OF USAF BOMBER
By Doug Davidge


Background

In 1996, Mr. Doug Craig of Whitehorse, Yukon, approached the Environmental Protection Branch of Environment Canada, Pacific and Yukon Region,  with concerns about a United States Air Force (USAF) Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-36B bomber crash site in the interior of British Columbia.  Specifically, his concerns dated back to 1956 when he and his fellow workers from the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) had a chance encounter with aircraft wreckage and other items while conducting field work in the area of Mount Kologet east of Meziadin Lake, B.C.

Among the material they discovered in 1956 was an unopened canister attached to a parachute.  The canister, identified with USAF markings, was found to contain a Geiger Counter.  Ordinance and other debris were also found in the vicinity.  After surveying the wreckage, the GSC team members speculated that a USAF aircraft  had crashed nearby in recent years and that the canister containing the Geiger Counter was equipment that was air-dropped onto the site by a USAF investigation team.  For some reason, the equipment was never recovered.

Over the decades that have passed since this chance encounter, Mr. Craig believed there was a reasonable possibility the B-36 that crashed on Mount Kologet may have been carrying a nuclear device.  If so, it was also possible the device may still be at the crash site.  Mr. Craig felt compelled to come forward in 1996 and disclose his personal knowledge of the crash site and raise his concerns that the site may be contaminated with radioactive material.

Over the past 40 years the B-36 crash has received periodic attention through newspaper articles and books on nuclear weapons related accidents.   Although the circumstances surrounding the incident were generally not widely known to the general public, inquiries in 1996 and 1997 via the internet, to various sources in the USAF, and with a number of knowledgeable individuals did produce some useful information.  Notably, field notes by Mr. Jim Roddick of the GSC (who encountered the crash site in 1956), detailed USAF archived file information, a USAF Search and Rescue Report and an article written by Mr. Dirk Septer entitled "Broken Arrow" (published in the "BC Aviator" October/November, 1993 Volume 3 Number 2) were obtained.

Despite all the information that was gathered, there was no clear evidence or paper trail on whether or not the B-36 aircraft was carrying a nuclear device.  The official response from the USAF in 1954 and now is that the B-36 was not carrying a nuclear payload or device when it crashed.  Efforts to obtain the official 1954 USAF Crash Site Investigation Report through government channels were not successful.

The Department of National Defense (DND) in Ottawa, was contacted in August of 1996 to further address Mr. Craig's concerns and to seek DND's opinion.  Discussions continued through the winter of 1996/97 while more information was obtained.  By May 1997, an agreement was reached between DND and Environment Canada to conduct a field assessment of the crash site for radioactive contamination and other dangerous goods.

A joint ground survey of the crash site was coordinated between Lt. Comdr. David Knight of DND-Ottawa and Doug Davidge of Environment Canada and scheduled the week of August 11 - 15, with DND providing the air transportation, ground support, technical expertise and equipment for radiation detection.

Following is a summary of activities that took place over a four day period in August, 1997 while the investigation team visited the crash site.

 

  August 10, 1997

Lt. Comdr. Dave Knight and Chris Thorp of the Nuclear Safety Compliance 2 - DND Ottawa HQ,  Mr. Doug Craig of Whitehorse and Doug Davidge of Environment Canada (Whitehorse)  arrived  in Stewart, B.C. late afternoon.  A short meeting took place in the evening to coordinate a departure time on the morning of August 11.

  Day 1 - 11 August, 1997

The survey team departed Stewart at approximately 10:30 hrs. for the crash site area.  The DND aircrew included Capt. Wayne Tidbury, Lt. Jeff Wedman, Master Cpl. Greg Sawchuk and Master Cpl. Jim Cudmore (Squadron 417, Cold Lake, Alberta).  The aircraft used was a "Griffon" Helicopter (Bell 412, Unit #415).

The B-36 wreckage was promptly located by Mr. Craig at the location previously visited  in 1956.

 
View of crash site.  

Lt. Comdr. Dave Knight and Chris Thorp conducted a preliminary survey of the wreckage area for radioactive sources before allowing other personnel into the crash zone.  No elevated radiation levels were detected.  Each member of the team was furnished with accumulative radiation detection devices for the duration of the survey to measure total dosage while on site.

Following a cursory survey of the crash site by team members, a survey plan was established by Comdr. Knight and Chris Thorp to sample for radiation sources.

The following equipment was used to sample at regular intervals:

General Purpose Survey Meter (GPSM) - NRS ADM-300, detects x-ray and gamma radiation between 18 KeV - 3 MeV.  Contains two GM tubes (one for low range, one high range), displays dose rate (i.e. micro Sieverts per hour, (µSv/hr.)).

Advanced Survey Meter (ASM) - NRS ADM-300 with ASP-100 alpha/beta contamination probe.   Measures surface contamination for alpha/beta radiation particles in counts per second.  Area measured is 100 cm² and a Bq/cm² contamination level can be calculated.

In addition to recording the above instrument readings, geo-positioning and elevation was also recorded for each interval using  Rockwell GPS units (accuracy to 0.01 seconds).

Results - Day 1

Aircraft wreckage was distributed over a large area along a steep westerly facing bolder and scree slope (a geologically unstable area prone to movement and slides).  Wreckage believed to be the tail section, the port wing and three engines were scattered across a small ridge several meters in elevation above the main fuselage wreckage (See Figure 1).

 
Figure 1.  Commander David Knight photographing the wreck site.

This ridge area was almost completely free of snow.  The remains of the starboard wing and engines were located immediately adjacent to the main fuselage.   Portions of the aircraft forward of the wings including the main landing gear, forward bomb bays, and cockpit appeared to have been completely destroyed by a fire.   Evidence of demolition by high explosives and the presence of unused explosives were found on-site (see Figures 2, and 3).

 
Figure 2.  Destroyed port engine.

 

 
Figure 3.  Evidence of demolition on propellers.

 

Pieces of the engines, wing, and turret that were demolished with high explosives were found scattered a considerable distance from the wreck site, in some cases up to 500 meters.  A section of the aircraft aft of the wings including portions of the rear bomb bay, several engines and three 20mm twin gun turrets was found to be relatively intact (see Figures 4, and 5).


Figure 4.  Mr. Doug Craig standing in fuselage wreckage (aft section).

 


Figure 5.  One of three Port engines.

 

The aft portion of the aircraft appeared to be inverted and almost collapsed upon itself but there was no evidence of fire or demolition by high explosives.   This area of the crash site was still partly inundated with snow up to 2m in depth.   A number of items such as personal belongings, survival equipment, instrumentation, oxygen cylinders and engine covers were found in the fuselage.  In addition to this an aluminum case labeled in red with "Explosives" was also found.

Day 2 - 12 August, 1997

We arrived on site at approximately 10:00 hrs. Some of the team members continued investigating the wreckage and reported finding more equipment and gear. The time spent at the wreck site on Day 2 was shortened due to poor weather and the pilot's decision to leave earlier than originally planned.

Day 3 - 13 August, 1997

We arrived on site at approximately 10:00 hrs.  No radiation anomalies or elevated readings were detected.  A sediment and vegetation sampling plan was initiated to collect grab samples at selected areas in the vicinity of the wreck site.   The samples will be analyzed at a later date for radioactive material (a DND responsibility).  Spot sampling was also carried out using a third piece of electronic detection equipment:

BTI Microspec 2 - Bubble Technologies field portable multi-channel analyzer with E-probe for isotope gamma energy discrimination and dose assessment in Sv/hr.  Energy range dependent on gain setting (60 KeV - 1.5 MeV).

The aircraft electronics and gauges were the only radiation sources detected.  The BTI Microspec 2 identified the source as radium, which was widely used to illuminate dials and gauges on instrument panels.

The aluminum "Explosives" box previously mentioned was investigated further by DND personnel.  They found it contained 4 of 36 electronic type detonators.  The missing 32 detonators are believed to have been used to arm the bomb carried by the B-36 in February 1950.  The case and enclosed documentation identified the detonator components which were intended for use in a Mk IV nuclear device (see Figures 6,7,8, 9 and 10).

 


Figure 6.  Aluminum Explosives Box.

 


Figure 8.  Inner lid on aluminum "Explosives" box.

 


Figure 9.  Contents of the aluminum "Explosives" box.

 


Figure 10.  One of four spare Mk IV detonators.

 

The surrounding area outside of the main crash site was searched for ordinance and other debris.  DND personnel located a 60 to 80 liter sized metal canister (yellow in color) that still contained a full load of individual explosive charges (see Figure 11).


Figure 11.  Abandoned canister of un-used high explosives

 

The metal canister appeared to be still attached to a parachute but the chute was frozen into a snow and ice field.  The canister also appeared to have remained unopened until this visit.  We concluded the explosives were probably dropped in 1953 or 1954, had become covered with snow, and were never located.  Consequently the explosives remained undetected until this visit.

  Day 4 - 14 August, 1997

All sediment and vegetation sampling was completed. The balance of the time was spent surveying and marking the crash area and perimeter for explosives and other ordinance. The investigation team concluded the survey at approximately 14:30 hrs. and returned to Stewart, B.C.

  Conclusions

Preliminary results of the ground survey indicate there is no high level radioactive material at the B-36 crash site on Mount Kologet.  A final report will be released by DND at a later date once all the sediment and vegetation analysis data is completed and the survey results are compiled.

A small number of unexploded 20mm canon shells from the B-36, small arms rounds, the mark IV detonators and the high explosives left by the USAF crash site investigation and demolition teams in 1953 and/or 1954 are considered to be a safety hazard.  These findings will be reported by Lt. David Knight to the DND Explosives and Ordinance Demolition (EOD) group to address disposal options.

The remainder of the B-36 wreckage consists of waste metal and other miscellaneous debris.  Since the wreck site is located in a remote area of B.C. and receives few visitors (if any), the impact of the wreckage on the aesthetic value of the area is not of immediate concern.  However, this does not preclude the possibility that it may need to be cleaned up or removed at some point in the near or distant future.   The historical significance of the B-36 wreck should also be addressed.   A number of personal items believed to belong to one of the surviving crewmembers of the 1950 B-36 flight were recovered in hopes of returning them to him or to his surviving family.

UPDATE: On July  2, 1998, with the help of Mr. Scott Deaver, one of the surviving crewmen was located.  After 48 years the collection of small items were returned to the airman.  These included two official "U.S." military collar pins, a 1950 version of the 7th. Bomber Group Insignia Pin, a mechanical pencil inscribed with his name, a 1st. Lt.'s Field Hat (identified with his name on the head band), a hair brush, a cologne bottle and a medicine bottle (see pictures below).

The Government of British Columbia was notified of the findings.  The B-36 aircraft wreck is now considered a historic site under existing provincial heritage legislation.

 

APPENDIX I:  STEWART HISTORICAL SOCIETY

A number of items were removed from the site and deposited at the Stewart Historical Society Museum in Stewart, B.C.  These included the following:

20mm cannon barrel
1 leather flight hat with goggles.
1 pair leather USAF gloves
1 emergency radio transmitter
1 emergency suit
first aid supplies

 


 Line Drawing of a B-36 showing the portion of the aircraft found at the crash site

 

 

Other Items Recovered from the wreck site:

 


Front cover of bomb loading manual

 


Standard U.S. military collar pin

 

 


Insignia pin of the 7th. bomb wing.  Translation is: "Death From Above"

 

 


Copilot's pencil (Name inscribed on barrel).

 


Lieutenant's field cap

 


Small totem.  (Typical souvenir from Alaska).

 

 


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