The icy grip of the Cold War had the world in its thrall in January 1966.

Tensions crackled between the US and the USSR, each brandishing nuclear arsenals capable of incinerating the planet.

In this climate of paranoia, a seemingly routine mission over the Mediterranean Sea took a terrifying turn, scattering a nightmare across a tranquil Spanish village.

A Collision Over Palomares

A colossal B-52 Stratofortress, a behemoth of the skies nicknamed the “BUFF” (Big Ugly Fat Fellow), lumbered east on Operation Chrome Dome. This Cold War ritual saw American bombers patrol the skies, ever vigilant against a Soviet attack that thankfully never came.

The B-52, laden with four hydrogen bombs, each immeasurably more destructive than the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, required mid-air refueling to complete its circuit.

Disaster struck over the Spanish village of Palomares.

In a delicate mid-air ballet gone terribly wrong, the B-52 collided with its refueling tanker.

Operation Chrome Dome
Operation Chrome Dome flight path over southern Europe (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The fireball that engulfed the sky rained destruction down on the unsuspecting village.