By SUSANNE RUST
MENLO PARK, Calif. — In the summer of 1952, Alan Jones, an industrious redhead with an impish smile, yearned for excitement and adventure. He drove down the California coast from Berkeley to La Jolla, hoping to join an oceanographic expedition heading to the South Pacific.
It wasn’t until he was preparing to board the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s research vessel, a rusty old tuna hauler called the Horizon, that he discovered the mission involved more than mapping the ocean floor: The crew of PhDs and handy guys like Jones, who “could fix things,” was going to the Marshall Islands to record waves generated by the world’s first hydrogen bomb.
Six months later, on Nov. 1, after watching an island get vaporized, Jones and the crew on the Horizon were doused in a shower of radioactive fallout. It was an incident that lowered Jones’ ability to produce blood platelets for two years, he believes, and he now wonders whether it caused developmental disabilities in a son born later, as well as his wife’s miscarriages and stillbirths.
Jones was one of just a few civilian witnesses to the event, and it left him shaken — even seven decades later — as he recalls how ill-prepared his boat and crew were for the bomb’s fallout.
“Our boat was too slow to get out of the way,” he said, noting that while every other boat there that day was more than 100 miles from the blast, the Horizon was just 72 miles away, according to military documents.
At 6:30, Barr, Darsey and the crew of the Horizon — who were floating just 72 miles north of the blast — heard the countdown and then saw the morning sky light up in a fury. Jones remembers it being a “great orange fireball,” while Barr, in his diary, described it as “a bright pink illumination” that shot outward and then “upward, making everything bright red.”
According to Jones, many of the crew members who stayed ended up dying early of cancer. The Times was unable to confirm his claim.
As for his own health, Jones said, his blood platelets dropped precipitously after his exposure, and for the next two years he had to get monthly iron and B12 shots, “which seemed to work quite fine.”
But he does wonder about his children. He said his wife had many miscarriages and stillbirths. And the one son who survived was severely developmentally delayed, he said. His wife and son are no longer alive.
Asked whether he’d do it all again, he shrugged. The expedition around the South Pacific, he said, was incredible. But the bomb was terrifying — and he worries someday a country will use one again.
“Those things will destroy us,” he said. “They are a terrible force.”
Read more at He saw a Marshall Islands nuclear bomb test up close. It’s haunted him since 1952