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The Biggest, Baddest Crash You've Never Heard Of

by Brian Dunning

July 10, 2011

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Donate Somewhere in the Amazon jungle is the wreckage of a big, bad red jet.

It was 1956 and the US Air Force was testing the Snark cruise missiles. Nothing quite like the Snark had ever been built before, or has been built since. ICBMs were in their infancy, and to fill the gap, we needed a fast way to deliver a nuclear payload overseas. And so the largest cruise missile ever was developed.

Physically, it was about the size of our largest fighter planes of the day. It flew just under the speed of sound (a supersonic variant was on the drawing boards) and weighed 24 tons. Launched from a ramp with rocket boosters, its air breathing turbojets could take it as far as 10,000 kilometers under the guidance of a celestial (!!) navigation system.

Or, in this case, under not quite so much guidance.

It was December 5 when this particular Snark, the bright red-orange number N-3309, took off from launch complex 1 at Cape Canaveral. Its mission was to fly to Puerto Rico, turn around, and come back; fortunately, without carrying an active warhead. For a while everything appeared to be fine, but then problems started popping up. For every 100 miles of flight, it drifted 8 miles to the right. It refused commands sent to get it back on course. Station 6 in the Bahamas tried to terminate the flight, but the destruct signal had no effect. The big Snark was headed toward South America, apparently out of control.

Station 7 on Grand Turk also sent a destruct signal, with no results. The same happened as the Snark passed Station 8 in the Dominican Republic, Station 9 in Puerto Rico, and Station 10 in St. Lucia. The Air Force scrambled fighters in Puerto Rico to try and shoot it down, but it was too late, they couldn't catch the Snark.

The last report anyone ever had was of the red monster flying southeast over the coast of Venezuela, headed straight for thousands of miles of Amazon jungle. It was fueled for about 2,450 miles, which would place it in the land of legend, far from the reach of Air Force radar. It will probably never be found. Stories did surface of its discovery, but none were verifiable. Who knows, there may even be some undiscovered tribe that worships the Snark as a deity.

by Brian Dunning

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