February 1950 – Madison, WI
Madisonian Captain Theodore F. Schreier disappeared. Presumed dead, via a crash into either the
Pacific Ocean, or the high mountains of British Columbia. What his story involves, if true, is an
Air Force training exercise gone wrong, and the possible loss of the radioactive plutonium core of
a nuclear bomb. Did Schreier risk, and ultimately lose, his life in an attempt to keep U.S. nuclear
weaponry and secrets from falling into enemy hands?
Schreier came to school at UW-Madison in 1936. He was a career Air Force officer, and in 1950 he was
temporarily stationed in Fort Worth, Texas. Schreier was part of a crew of 17 scheduled to fly from
Fairbanks, Alaska, to Fort Worth aboard a B-36 aircraft.
The Air Force called it a routine training mission, but in fact it was a simulated nuclear "attack"
on San Francisco. After completing the mission the plane would fly to Texas. A Mark 4 atomic bomb
was on board.
The plane encountered heavy rains, and then icing on its wings. Three engines caught fire. That much
we know is true. but what happened next? The details of what happened next are still a mystery.
It was originally reported that all 17 crew members had parachuted out of the plane. Twelve were
found alive by fishing boats and the Canadian Navy. The remaining five were presumed drowned.
There was no mention of a bomb aboard, but six months later, the Air Force issued a brief release
saying a non-nuclear bomb had been dropped and exploded in mid-air above the ocean before the
crew bailed out.
In the summer of 1953 a rescue team searching the mountains of British Columbia for a lost civilian
plane came across the wreck of the B-36. The wreck was 300 miles north back toward Alaska rather
than the spot where the crew bailed out.
Did someone stay aboard to maintain the bomb and perhaps a second nuclear weapon? Did they try to
pilot the plane back to Alaska to keep it from enemy hands? A "birdcage", an object used to
transport a bomb's plutonium core, which is kept separate from the bomb was found at the British
Columbia crash site.
After the wreck was discovered the US Air Force descended on the crash sight. They had a Geiger
counter and explosives, which they used to obliterate the wreckage once they were finished with it.
When they left rumors began circulating locally that a body had been recovered from the plane.
The surviving crew members have always maintained there was no plutonium core aboard but when
interviewed in private. They would say, "There are things that happened that we just can't talk
about because we don't want to say anything to damage our country."
Schreier's family knew nothing of any of this. They were told when Ted went missing that he was on
a transport plane. The Air Force named streets after four of the five crew members who died in the
crash of the B-36. The only one not getting the honor was Ted Schreier. A documentary was made from
this story called "Lost Nuke"