190. Telegram From the Embassy in Spain to the Department of State1

855. Ref Deptel 819.2 Dept pass DOD and HQ SAC Omaha.

As anticipated Deptel Spanish acutely sensitive to any further public statements on B-52/KC-135 accident. FonOff (in name Ministers Foreign Affairs, Air and Navy who happened to be in conference at [Page 385] FonOff when Embassy took up consultation pursuant reftel) pointed out today story dying in Spanish press and local interest subsiding. FonOff even requested that any expression of gratitude on our part for Spanish help in rescue and search operations not be made publicly.
However, when informed story may assume added dimensions elsewhere in international press, FonOff agreed it could conceivably later become desirable to restrain speculation with another official statement. In this spirit, FonOff gave tentative approval to draft quoted below on condition final GOS clearance be obtained if US believed changed circumstances required further statement.

Following is text of draft statement given tentative and conditional clearance as described above:

“United States Ambassador to Spain Angier Biddle Duke today expressed deep appreciation for the wholehearted assistance provided by Spanish authorities and civilians in search and rescue operations following the mid-air collision of two American military planes on Monday.

The collision involved a B-52 inter-continental bomber and a KC-135 jet tanker engaged in a routine high altitude refueling operation. Four airmen were rescued, but seven lost their lives.

It has been announced by U.S. Air Force investigators that a small explosion of conventional materials had occurred on the ground as a sequel to the crash. The explosion occurred when wreckage fell near the tiny village of Palomares, near Vera, close to the spot where the damaged but virtually intact tail assembly of the B-52 bomber was found. No casualties among inhabitants of the area have been reported.

Radiation monitoring teams are operating in the area and will remain to complete their survey and confirm the safety of the spot.

An intensive search and recovery operation on land and off the coast in the accident area is being conducted jointly by Spanish and American forces. In order to determine the cause of the crash and to preclude a similar accident, it is desired to recover all pieces of the wreckage which will later be carefully studied by Air Force experts.

Major General Stanley Donovan, Chief of the Joint U.S. Military Group (JUSMG) and Major General Delmar E. Wilson, Commander Sixteenth Air Force, joined the Ambassador in praising the cooperation and assistance rendered by Spaniards. They commended the Spanish Navy for immediately locating and directing the rescue of three airmen who parachuted into the Mediterranean.

The United States officials also voiced gratification for the use of Spanish medical facilities in the accident area, the close assistance provided by the Guardia Civil, and the aid of the Spanish Air Force.”

Spanish objected strongly to more forthright treatment of radiation contained in original draft, and Ambassador, on advice Chief JUSMG who just returned from scene of accident, believes wording as given above adequate. U.S. officials here would decline further comment on subject if questioned by press.
Must emphasize GOS very anxious that no further official statement be made under existing circumstances and are likely to relent only in face clear and urgent necessity.3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Spain, Vol. 1. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Repeated to London, Paris, and POLAD CINCEUR.
  2. Telegram 819 to Madrid, January 17, requested that the Embassy draft a statement on procedures being used to deal with radioactivity. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 17 US)
  3. In telegram 857 from Madrid, January 19, the Embassy reported that the United Press correspondent filed a story relating that one nuclear device was missing. It added: “Since foregoing may lead to escalation of media treatment and rapid change in present circumstances request Washington clearance soonest of draft statement.” (Department of State, Madrid Post Files: Lot 71 A 2420, Def 17 B 52/KC 135 Collision)