It was about 10:20 in the morning on January 17th, 1966, and Francisco was leaning over the starboard rail of his tidy shrimper, the Manuel Orts, preparing to retrieve his nets. At first, he subconsciously took the sound to be thunder and didn’t even look up. A few seconds of reflection though, reminded him that the morning had been cloudless and he turned his gaze nearly 30,000 feet vertical, over the coastal village of Palomares.
He only saw the end of the explosion, a few bright orange streams arcing out from an enormous ball of black smoke. Bits of debris were shooting off in all directions before succumbing to the pull of the earth and plummeting down towards the Manuel Orts.
Francisco ran back to the pilothouse, turned hard to port, and slammed the throttle. As he motored away towards safety, he kept his eyes on the spreading smoke. From it emerged five parachutes. Three of them were drifting on the wind out to sea.
The two others sent gruesome chills down Francisco’s spine, and were falling at a faster pace; the chutes were tangled. One seemed to be supporting the weight of a dead man. As for the second one, dangling beneath the white silk, Francisco only saw half a man; his guts spilling out.
Both bodies hit the water hard.
By the time Francisco managed to maneuver his boat on-scene, they were both already beneath the waves.
The good news, as Francisco soon found out, was that the two objects he witnessed falling into the Mediterranean were not men. The bad news was that they were halves of a hydrogen bomb.
Two months later, Francisco Simó Orts would lead the U.S. Navy to the lost bomb and be forever known as “Paco el de la Bomba.”