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Cameraman tales: Jan Borg

Jan Borg

UPITN cameraman Jan Borg was normally based in his home city of Oslo.  However, in 1968, he was absent, abroad, for 310 days.

The following is one of the reasons that he was away from home. It started on January 21 when an US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed in the sea ice in North Star Bay  some 12 km west of Thule Air Base, Greenland.

On January 21, 1968, a B-52G Stratofortress, serial number 58-0188, with the callsign “HOBO 28” from the 380th Strategic Bomb Wing at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York was assigned to the “Hard Head” mission over Thule and nearby Baffin Bay. The bomber crew consisted of five regular crew members.

Approximately one hour after refuelling, while the aircraft was circling above its designated area, a fire started inside the cabin.

Attempts to extinguish the blaze failed.

English: Aerial photograph of blackened area o...

Aerial photograph of blackened area of ice where a B-52 carrying 4 nuclear weapons crashed near Thule Air Base on January 21, 1968. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The pilot signalled to Thule Air Base that he wished o make an emergency landing, but before he could do so, the aircraft lost all electrical power.  This prevented a landing.  Four of the crew ejected while flying over Thule Air Base, the fifth was killed trying to evacuate from the plane.  The aircraft, now without a pilot, flew on and, eventually, crashed onto sea ice in North Star Bay twelve kilometres west of Thule Air Base.

On impact, the conventional explosives in the hydrogen bombs exploded, but the nuclear explosion did not take place.   However, radio active material was spread over a wide area.   The near full fuel tanks caught fire and the tremendous heat melted the sea ice and almost every piece of wreckage sank to the bottom of the sea.

Jan Borg, writes:

I just happened to be in Copenhagen that day (January 21st 1968) and only two hours after the story broke I was taking off from Kastrup airport on board the monthly jet freighter from SAS .

First commercial flight to Greenland took off a week later.  We landed in the cold dark Arctic winter at Thule Air Base in the morning on January 22. the temperature showed – 63 degree Celsius.

Specially made heated suits were handed to me by the US Air Force which made it possible to stay alive in the stormy winter weather.  The suit was equipped with total of 10 gas heaters installed in pockets from top down to the boots. The small gas containers had to be refilled every second hour. No electric camera worked in that extreme cold temperature. The cable connecting the Arriflex camera with the battery would crack like piddling wood (Match wood). A Bolex camera, which does not use a battery, was treated with a special oil and packed in specially heated blimp.  This saved the coverage of the crash. Not the easiest story to cover.

Dog sledges were the only way to get to the crash site – a four meter long sledge pulled by 12 polar dogs and driven by a veteran Eskimo the 12 kilometres across the Polar ice to North Star Bay.

Due to the total winter darkness 24 hrs a day, some lamps had been put up by the rescue team making it possible to get some short shots of part of an engine, a tyre and small items of debris on the blackened surface of the ice. I assume very few cameramen have been covering a news story under such extreme weather conditions with temperatures

(-20 , -40C and even) below minus 60 degrees Celsius, and accompanied by winds of, up to 40 meters per second (89 MPH)

 I had two three very good photos of me onboard the dog sledge in the darkness, unfortunately I can’t find them. That’s too bad.

 Well Terry, That’s only one of quite a number of interesting stories from my busy year 1968.  There was also the Russian invasion in Czechoslovakia (my coverage of tanks heading for Prague was the first story to reach the west).

mexican students on a burned bus

Mexican students on a burned bus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The war between Nigeria and Biafra, the student riots in Paris, and last but not least: The massacre at the Three cultures square in Mexico City where more than thousand demonstrators were killed by the army just a week before the Olympic summer games started.  My eyewitness story got front page in all major newspapers worldwide next day. The film coverage reached New York three days later.

In amongst all that, Jan Borg worked with me on the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix of 1968.

I wonders what he did to occupy himself during the fifty-five days he spent at home.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2012.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For more articles in the Cameraman tales series click here.

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