Military aircraft often drop dummy training ordnance during practice flights. Sometimes the bombs accidentally fall on cities, like San Francisco.
In July 1963, a U.S. Navy A-4 Skyhawk flown by U.S. Naval Reservist Lieutenant R.A. Kiner accidentally dropped a training bomb over downtown San Francisco. The bomb, which had worked itself loose from the aircraft wing,
“did not explode, but did manage to gouge a hole in the asphalt a foot wide and four inches deep.
Then the bomb ricocheted in a 300-foot high arc that carried it over three city blocks and several office buildings, including one eight stories tall.
It then struck a cornice on the top floor of the Phoenix building on Pine Street and tumbled to the concrete below, striking a Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) service truck where three employees were eating their lunch. Nobody was hurt.”
Falling at lunchtime in downtown San Francisco, it’s a minor miracle that the bomb didn’t kill anyone. What’s even more remarkable was that it was actually a nice day in San Francisco on July 22nd, 1963. According to weather records, the temperature in San Francisco that day was in the upper 70s, and the skies were clear. Anyone who has walked down Market at lunchtime on a nice summer day knows the streets are crowded with people.
The Skyhawk had been operating out of Crow’s Landing Naval Auxiliary Air Station, which as Wikipedia describes it, is an old military airfield 71 miles east of Alameda in Stanislaus County. The station has been closed, subject to an EPA cleanup, and currently lies vacant.
The aircraft flown by Lieutenant Kiner, the A-4 Skyhawk, was a light attack jet used by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps during the Vietnam War period. For the bomb to have flown approximately three blocks and bounced over eight story buildings Kiner must have been flying at a reasonably high altitude and rate of speed.
The bomb was a Mk. 76 training bomb, designed to simulate bombs in the 500- to 2,000 pound range. The Mk. 76 is still in use today. Here’s one being loaded on an aircraft carrier.
Military aircraft still occasionally lose bombs, such as this incident in 2007 near Naval Air Station Oceana. It’s possible that too was a Mk. 76.