These five men were neither crazy nor were they being punished. Believe it or not, the five people volunteered to participate in this act of “bravery”. On the fateful day of July 19th, 1957, about 65 miles north-west of Las Vegas, these five Air Force officers along with a photographer stood on “Ground Zero”, the exact spot where a nuclear bomb was about to be dropped.
These five men pushed a board saying “Population 5” into the ground and waited for the two F-89 jets to drop the N bomb. Soon enough, it did come, and one of them released a nuclear missile carrying an atomic warhead, which exploded just 18,500 feet above them.
So, why did these men intentionally chose to stand under an exploding 2-kiloton nuclear bomb?
The point of this crazy experiment was to demonstrate the “safety” of a low-grade nuclear explosion, at a time when the country was concerned about a nuclear war with Russia. So two colonels, two majors and a fifth officer from the USA Air Force actually volunteered to stand right below the blast. The sixth person and the cameraman, George Yoshitake, did not volunteer.
They did not manage to convince the people that using atomic weapons to counter similar technology by the enemy was safe, but it did create one hell of a story!
As the warhead exploded, the narrator shouted,
“It happened! The mounds are vibrating. It is tremendous! Directly above our heads! Aaah!”
If you see the video attached below, you will notice that the explosion occurs in complete silence, which could be explained by the relatively fast speed of the light against sound waves. The abrupt white flash comes, and the soldiers flinch before the roar can be heard.
The video was leaked by Alex Wellerstein, who is a science historian by posting it on Restricted Data; The Nuclear Secrecy Blog. You can clearly watch a big flash of light, which was followed by a roaring sound, then a cloud of ash being torn apart by a fireball.
Wellerstein commented on this,
“Put on some headphones and listen to it all the way through — it’s much more intimate than any other test film I’ve seen. You get a much better sense of what these things must have been like, on the ground, as an observer, than from your standard montage of blasts. Murmurs in anticipation, the slow countdown over a megaphone; the reaction at the flash of the bomb; and finally — a sharp bang, followed by a long, thundering growl. That’s the sound of the bomb.”
Just in case you were wondering what happened to the guys in the video. Apparently, they all were safe, and died natural deaths.:
- Col. Sidney C. Bruce — died in 2005 (age 86)
- Lt. Col. Frank P. Ball — died in 2003 (age 83)
- Major John Hughes — died in 1990 (age 71)
- Major Norman Bodinger — not listed in the database so he may be alive
- Don Lutrel — died 1987 (age 63)