Although the flight manifest listed no ammunition, bombs, or rockets, and the co-pilot later told officials that no bombs were carried on Felon 22, the fears have never really gone away.
The Air Force didn’t make matters any better when they arrived on scene several hours after the crash and secured it against local law enforcement and bystanders.
The Air Force didn’t say anything one way or the other, so their secrecy was interpreted as validation that they were looking for nuclear weapons. It was taken as proof that danger lurked in the crash area.
Revisiting the crash story 30 years later, Salt Lake Tribune reporter Jon Ure stated that Felon 22 “was carrying four hydrogen bombs when it crashed” on January 19, 1961, but gave no source for that information.
Ure went on to write that a Pentagon report listed the crash “among 29 documented nuclear accidents that have occurred since 1950.”
The subject report was prepared in 1991 for the Environmental Protection Agency and released as a draft. Skoblar and Weston, authors of the report, listed about 45,000 locations where radioactivity might be contaminating buildings, soil, water or other resources.
One category of potential contamination was accidents involving nuclear weapons carriers, such as rocket launchers, bombers, and missiles. That list included the wreck of Felon 22.
About the time that concerns over the Felon 22 accident were quieting, the Department of Energy wrote a letter to Jay Palmer, a Monticello native whose family owned a ranch in Peters Canyon on which some of the crash debris had landed.
The September 8, 1995 letter was specifically looking for scrap metal, salvaged equipment and materials, mill tailings, fencing and other items that were once located at the uranium mill in Monticello. It was a form letter sent to many property owners in the Monticello vicinity as part of the mill site remediation project.
Two coincidences converged at this time to raise Jay Palmer’s level of concern over the DOE’s inquiry. One was a newspaper article reporting that many workers who had helped clean up a B-52 crash on Greenland were now dying of radiation sickness.
The three hydrogen bombs on that plane had ruptured, spreading radioactivity over the debris and on the snow. The workers had not been protected against it, and now they were paying the price.
The other coincidence was an experimental process to clean up plutonium 239, the trigger in nuclear weapons.
Developed by Palmer and his colleagues at the University of South Florida, it heightened Palmer’s awareness of radiation dangers, and he made several inquiries about his family’s property in Peters Canyon.
In reply to letters sent by Jay Palmer, the DOE said they had no records of the B-52 crash. The Pentagon replied that the B-52 did not carry any H-bombs.
The Air Force Safety Agency supplied a redacted (censored) copy of the crash report after Palmer filed a Freedom of Information Act request. The list of witnesses who were interviewed and their statements were withheld, as were the findings of the investigators and the health reports on the victims of the crash.
The explanation for not including this information was that it “would jeopardize a significant government interest by inhibiting its ability to conduct future safety investigations of Air Force aircraft mishaps. Disclosure of this information would be contrary to the promises of confidentiality extended to witnesses and investigators.”
The safety agency reiterated that Felon 22 did not carry any hydrogen bombs. In spite of such assurances, talk of a missing bomb and its radioactivity persist.
Had the Air Force been willing to explain why they excluded the county sheriff and rescue team from the crash site, perhaps the fears would have been laid to rest. But the interests of military security didn’t include a democratic discussion of options.
Revisiting the crash of Felon 22