01 Feb Here there be Monsters
In the late 1940’s only a few years after World War Two ended, the United States Army Air Forces embarked on a project that was as audacious as it was ridiculously dangerous. The project was known as “Crusader,” an experiment to test the feasibility of America’s giant long range bombers to be powered by nuclear propulsion. By the early 1950’s, with the Cold War with Soviet Russia reaching a boiling point, the newly designated United States Air Force was ready to test the capability of having a nuclear powered bomber fleet in the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the capability to strike the Soviet Union within seconds of receiving the call that the world was coming to an end.
Joining with the Atomic Energy Commission, the Air Force outfitted a specially modified Convair NB-36 bomber with an actual nuclear reactor. At the time, the NB-36 was one of the largest bombers ever designed and dwarfed America’s largest World War Two bomber, the B29 Superfortress. The NB-36 bomber completed nearly 90 hours of flight testing over the continental United States with the nuclear reactor operating high over the skies of New Mexico and Texas. The operations were considered so risky that a second B50 Superfortress (modified from the original World War Two B29 Superfortress) followed behind the NB-36 with a specially trained crew to handle radiological hazmat fallout should the NB-36 crash. By 1957, with initial flight testing completed, the NB-36 bomber, whose serial number was S/N 51-5712, was officially listed in the Air Force records as being scrapped, though continued research on the project continued until its cancellation in 1961.
That is where the official US government records end, but where the account of following events begins. In 1958 under the thickest veil of secrecy, an NB-36 bomber with the number 51-5712 completely erased from its tail, landed on the island of Okinawa about 900 miles southwest of Japan to continue further flight and weapon delivery testing. Presumably, very few records remain of this phase of testing, as these were conducted at a level exceeding Top Secret, and any records which may survive to this day are still a closely guarded national secret. Still, by what secondary and tertiary accounts that do exist of that phase of testing, of which it can be safely assumed that half are inaccurate or completely false, the testing was considered a success by all measures, the nuclear powered NB-36 having made successful secret test flights from the Philippine Sea to as far south as Australia and the northern tip of New Zealand and back. Rumors even circulated of a strange American bomber being seen over Chinese and North Korean air space at the time. Sometime in early 1959, the NB-36 having completed that phase of testing, the bomber and its crew prepared for their flight back to the mainland United States. It was to be the longest flight for the nuclear powered bomber, taking it from Okinawa over to the North Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Alaska south of Cook Inlet and Anchorage then south across the entire United States mainland until it reached Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. This was to be done entirely on nuclear propulsion and with absolutely no refueling stops. The accompanying B50 Superfortress would be with the NB-36 over most of the Pacific leg until it was relieved by a second B50 flying out of Anchorage.
Accounts of what happened next, if indeed such accounts actually existed, are extremely scarce and border on wild speculation. Given what little accurate information is available, what can be reasonably surmised is this: About three hours into the flight, the accompanying B50 Superfortress experienced some type of mechanical engine failure and was forced to return to Japan. However, for some unknown reason, the now unaccompanied NB-36 was ordered to continue on its mission to the rendezvous point with the second B50 over the Gulf of Alaska. Who, exactly, gave this order is up for speculation, but the fact remained. The NB-36 would be alone for the next five hours until it linked up with their B50 escort.
Sometime during that five hour window, the NB-36 bomber disappeared.
No record of the US military search and recovery efforts exist, but it can be safely assumed that it was as extensive as it was secretive. The only indication that such a mission ever took place came from old Soviet naval reports which were released in the early 1990’s during the period of Glasnost when the Soviet Union collapsed. The report came from a Soviet submarine which, at the time, was quietly stalking US naval surface vessels operating in the area. According to the report, several dozen US and Canadian naval warships were operating in a 1,500 square mile area of the Pacific Ocean in the waters west of British Columbia. According to the submarine captain, they seemed to be searching for something.
For their part, both the United States and the Canadian government dismissed any such inquiries into this matter as simply a regularly scheduled joint naval exercise between two close NATO allied nations. Still, the rumors persisted that angry messages were sent to the United States and the US Department of Defense from Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and the Canadian Ambassador to the United States Arnold Heeney shortly after the search efforts ended. Apparently, they were extremely upset that the United States had somehow secretly and unnecessarily endangered the Canadian mainland in some way, and relations turned noticeably sour between the two neighboring countries for several months from 1959 to 1960.
In 1961, newly elected American President John F. Kennedy officially scrapped the entire nuclear powered bomber program and the fifteen year experiment became just another billion dollar footnote in the annals of failed military experiments. The development of successful in-flight refueling for bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles had made the nuclear powered bomber project obsolete. The NB-36 Crusader project was swept under the rug and was very quickly forgotten.
That should have been the end of the story, except for one seemingly unconnected event which occurred in 1968 in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. In March of that year, approximately 1,560 nautical miles north of the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the Soviet submarine K-129 was mysteriously lost with all 98 crewmembers on board. An extensive air sea search by the Soviet navy found nothing of the stricken submarine and rumors abounded as to what caused it to sink, from a hydrogen explosion in the batteries to a leaking missile door causing one of her onboard missiles to explode to even claiming that a United States naval submarine, the USS Swordfish, had intentionally rammed it and caused the Russian vessel to sink. The Soviets stuck with the last theory that the United States was somehow responsible for the sinking and tensions again rose between the two superpowers, though the US Navy claimed that no such ramming had occurred.
These tensions came to a head when only a couple of months later in May of 1968, a US Navy Skipjack class submarine, the USS Scorpion was mysteriously lost in the Atlantic Ocean taking 99 American sailors with her. Several Soviet naval war vessels were operating in the area of the Scorpion’s disappearance and speculation was that the Scorpion was attacked by the Soviets in retaliation for the sinking of the Soviet K-129 submarine in March. This time, however, it was the Soviets who claimed to have had no involvement with the sinking. Regardless of who or what sank the USS Scorpion, tensions were at an all time high between the Soviets and the United States as the United States was already deeply embroiled against a stubborn and determined Communist enemy in Vietnam, while the Communist Soviets were quickly spreading their influence over eastern Europe and threatening the western European democracies. The safety switches on the nuclear weapons stockpiles of both sides had been shut off and the threat of a nuclear conflagration was never more than a second away.
Fortunately, a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union never occurred during what is now considered the Cold War era, but other, seemingly completely disconnected occurrences began happening in the oceans across the entire globe. Fishermen, sailors, and those who made their trades by living off the ocean began reporting seeing strange anomalies in the water, things which were huge, unknown, and very much alive. Reports of sightings of giant sea creatures, reportedly resembling monstrous sea serpents or sea dragons in the Pacific Ocean, spiked by over 600% in the 1970’s including a famous picture which made world news headlines of what was described as the carcass of a prehistoric plesiosaur dredged up from the ocean by the Japanese trawler Zuiyo Maru off the coast of New Zealand. While many in the scientific community speculated that it was the remains of an unusually large basking shark, (the carcass was thrown overboard by the crew after the captain took pictures of it) there was never any solid proof to either prove or disprove that it was either a known species of shark or if it was, in fact, a recently deceased prehistoric dinosaur.
These many hundreds of reports and sightings were never really taken seriously by the enlightened popular scientific community and were largely relegated to tabloid newspapers or brief “What was that?” news reports on local television news. The popular narrative of the time was that anyone who believed those reports, or attempted to do any serious investigations into what were, in effect, ancient nautical horror stories told by drunken sailors, was not to be taken seriously. Such things were only an amusing distraction to the drudgery of daily life and nothing more.
This almost worldwide belief that there was no such thing as leviathan sized creatures lurking in the depths of the Pacific Ocean continued decades later, even when in 1997, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded an odd low-frequency, high amplitude underwater sound in the south Pacific Ocean. Called simply “The Bloop”, the sound was recorded at a point 50 degrees S and 100 degrees W off the southern tip of South America and was picked up and heard by multiple sensors at a range exceeding 3,000 miles away. Though some in the scientific community initially stated that The Bloop came from an, as yet, unidentified marine animal of exceedingly massive proportions, it took until 2012, over a decade and a half later, for scientists to dismiss The Bloop sound as simply glacial ice moving. They came to this conclusion despite the fact that glacial ice has been moving for thousands of years and no prior recording of this magnitude had ever been recorded and that the sound signature was a rapid variation in frequency which can only be produced by marine animals. It was also near this area when crewmen aboard Japanese research vessels began reporting sightings of monstrous aquatic creatures, completely white in color, human-like in shape and over 90-100 feet in length swimming off the waters of the Arctic not far from where The Bloop sound was recorded at the tip of South America.
One other fact which had been left out or simply forgotten from all of the news broadcasts was that the population of all species of marine whales in that part of the Pacific Ocean had fallen dramatically for over two decades, in spite of the fact that human whale harvesting had dwindled dramatically over the same time period. Other odd occurrences involving whales included the increased number of whale beachings along the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Environmentalists and activists attributed these mass suicides of whales upon the beaches surrounding the Pacific to sonar activity by US naval submarines or climate change caused by US military operations. Not one scientist or biologist ever brought up the theory that something predatory might have chased the whales to the shore, so eager was the desire to place blame on the United States military. In fact, the fear that US military operations was causing global warming and forcing whales to beach themselves was so great that in 2010, Democratic Congressional Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia lectured the United States House Armed Services Committee and the American Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Robert Willard, that continued US military operations such as a planned training operation to have Marines land on the beaches of Guam would cause so much global warming, whale beaching, and overpopulation “…that the whole island of Guam will tip over and capsize…”
But whales weren’t the only large creatures to suffer from mysterious deaths. Another incident occurred in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Australia a few years later. Scientists had tagged a 9 foot long female great white shark and was tracking it when, suddenly, the tag indicated that the temperature had abruptly increased to 78 degrees and that the device ad experienced a rapid plunge in depth to around 580 meters in a matter of seconds. The stunned scientists could only speculate as to the cause of such a bizarre event and for days tried to come up with a logical explanation of what could do this to a great white shark. The only conclusion which the scientists could determine was that the nine foot long apex predator had been swallowed by something even bigger which then immediately dived deeper into the depths of the ocean.
To the world at large, all of these events, from the loss of the nuclear powered NB-36 bomber back in 1959, to the loss of the Soviet submarine a decade later, to the increased sightings of weird, anomalous things in the Pacific Ocean, and to the deceased whale population and increased whale beachings over the last thirty years, were nothing more than peculiar, disjointed, and totally unconnected incidents. The world was rapidly becoming an overly complex place to live, with strife, civil war, economic and environmental turmoil, social unrest, drought, famine, disease, power hungry politicians, and an endless array of other calamities that attacked the average everyday citizen of the planet earth. They had no time to be concerned about mythical sea monsters or horrific Lovecraftian monstrosities from the depths… until the day that the wreckage of the NB-36 was discovered washed ashore on a desolate island of the Pacific Ocean.
Ironically, the wreckage of the long forgotten NB-36 nuclear powered bomber was hiding in plain sight for an undetermined number of years as its mostly intact left wing and parts of the fuselage had washed ashore on a tiny, uninhabited island hundreds of miles south of Alaska. With modern surveillance such as Google Earth and satellite mapping technology, it may have even been viewed hundreds of times by unsuspecting people who had little idea of the significance of their find, perhaps mistaking the wrecked warplane as just one of the thousands which had been lost in the Pacific during World War Two. As there was no record of a nuclear powered bomber being lost in the north Pacific, there was no reason to suspect that the wreckage was anything more than a tragic loss from a tragic war.
Regardless, the wreckage remained undisturbed for decades until a documentary news crew from the BBC hired an underwater research vessel to search for long lost ships and planes which had perished during the horrific and deadly naval battles which had taken place between the United States and Imperial Japan’s naval forces. They had just concluded filming and were sailing back to San Diego when, almost as an afterthought, the director of the documentary decided to make a detour to investigate the old wreckage which had washed ashore on that deserted island. After radioing their intentions to Pearl Harbor, the research vessel made for the island. It was not known if the vessel had ever reached its objective. Two days after their last check in with Pearl Harbor, all communications with the ship had been lost.
An extensive search of the area by the British Royal Navy, the Canadian Navy, and the US Coast Guard commenced though nothing was found of the missing research vessel except various bits of floating debris and two empty life preservers which presumably had come from the ship. It was when the British Royal Navy decided to search the island where the British researchers were headed that the United States State Department did an incredibly odd thing. The United States declared three hundred mile exclusion zone around the little one and a half square mile island, forbidding any except authorized US naval warships to enter the restricted zone.
It was almost sixty years to the day that the NB-36 went missing that United States finally found pieces of that nuclear powered bomber and that, unfortunately, is the part of the story where I come in. My name is Captain Samuel Gabriel, United States Marine Corps. I am the commander of a very highly trained and highly specialized unit of CBRNE (sea-burn) Marines. CBRNE stands for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high yield explosives. Our job as military emergency responders is to recognize and mitigate attacks from such weapons which could create mass casualties and mass disruption to society from, for example, a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack. Stationed in Hawaii, we were the nearest unit of this type to the mysterious little island that was located some 1,000 nautical miles due northwest of Oahu. Admittedly, calling on a CBRNE unit to search for a missing research vessel was highly unusual, but, as the old saying goes, “Ours is not to question why. Ours is but to do or die.”