The day we almost nuked North Carolina

Posted by: Phineas on September 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm

**Posted by Phineas


Well, this is reassuring: In 1961, a nuclear-armed B-52 breaks up over Goldsboro, North Carolina, and in the process releases two 4-megaton H-bombs, one of which nearly detonated:

The accident happened when a B-52 bomber got into trouble, having embarked from Seymour Johnson Air Force base in Goldsboro for a routine flight along the East Coast. As it went into a tailspin, the hydrogen bombs it was carrying became separated. One fell into a field near Faro, North Carolina, its parachute draped in the branches of a tree; the other plummeted into a meadow off Big Daddy’s Road.

Jones found that of the four safety mechanisms in the Faro bomb, designed to prevent unintended detonation, three failed to operate properly. When the bomb hit the ground, a firing signal was sent to the nuclear core of the device, and it was only that final, highly vulnerable switch that averted calamity. “The MK 39 Mod 2 bomb did not possess adequate safety for the airborne alert role in the B-52,” Jones concludes.

I’d say that’s an understatement, wouldn’t you?

According to the writer of the original report on the incident, Parker Jones, there were over 700 “significant incidents” between 1950 and 1968.

Sleep well!

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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15 Responses to “The day we almost nuked North Carolina”


  1. ST says:

    OMG!!! Did not know this!

  2. ALman says:

    I’m certainly glad nothing did happen! After all, where would we be today without ST and “gang” tackling the major (and minor) issues of the day?:d

  3. This was an old Cold War tactic of flying B-52s around fully armed with nuclear devices in case of a surprise attack by Russia; something straight out of “Seven Days in May”. It finally dawned on the powers-that-be that this was not such a good idea after this incident and another where a nuclear weapon was dropped in the ocean but recovered safely.

  4. A. C. says:

    About twenty years ago or so, I read somewhere that in the seventies the US quietly declassified technical information on a variety of nuclear weapons safety devices for ICBM’s because we had learned – somehow – that the Soviets didn’t have much in the way of safety devices installed on theirs. Don’t know if the Soviets took the hint or not.

    Notwithstanding the lack of safety devices, the cold war remained cold for forty years.

  5. Ike says:

    Why are you surprized that nuclear weapons were dropped and almost went off?? There isn’t any – bar none – device that is going to function at 100% effectiveness 100% of the time. Doesn’t matter what it is, from your old grandma’s alarm clock to the safeties on nuclear weapons. You ought to be surprized, instead, that in actual fact not one atomic bomb ever went off accidentally in the U.S. That’s a pretty good record. Don’t have a cow about something that never actually happened. Worry about more important things that are happening. :)

  6. Jim says:

    I lived about 10 miles away when this happened. Never found the plutonium core. “The Goldsboro Broken Arrow” by Joel Dobson is a great book about this.

  7. Carlos says:

    I can think of several places that, if the “incident” had actually happened, I’d rather the bombs be, instead of a pretty place with good folk like NC.

    Seems like the military just can’t get anything right. What were those pilots going to do with those bombs if an actual attack had occurred? Bomb some empty fields and forests in Russia?

    Nope, they needed to be flying those frying machines over L.A., San Fran, NYC, D.C., Chicago, Boston, you know, all the places that produce all the folk that know how to run our lives better’n we do…

  8. wolfie says:

    Just think. The Dean Dome never would have gotten built.
    And Duke wouldn’t have been able to win those championships, even if they were just a fluke. l-)
    I’ll bet the wolfpack would’ve survived, though.

  9. TG McCoy says:

    This has been around for years-read this in a DOE
    public publication back in the 80’s legend in the nuke business for years.
    Re the Plutonium core. Problem with Plutonium is it is not particularly radioactive.Does not emit
    highly active Gamma particles for instance,
    lot easier to deal with.
    Harder to find if it is under the sea or buried in earth… Not dangerous unless exploded or in liquid form.If the core is
    broken up there is no way it can explode or react..

  10. Phineas says:

    Harder to find if it is under the sea or buried in earth… Not dangerous unless exploded or in liquid form.If the core is
    broken up there is no way it can explode or react..

    Yeah, but it’s perfect for creating radioactive mutant killer gophers. ;)

  11. ALman says:

    Then, there’s the weekly lamentations about the Panthers. There wouldn’t be any, unless there was a team called the Mutant Gophers. . .=))

  12. David Lentz says:

    In the early Sixties, SAC (Strategic Air Command) dropped a nuke in the Med0iterain Sea. The bomb was recovered thanks to the squids, (United States Navy) and the airborne alerts were replaced by ground alerts. Even somebody as dumb as an airman can on occasion learn.

  13. Drew the Infidel says:

    This was before the days of ICBMs and the strategy was to have the armed planes aloft for a retaliatory strike instead of destroyed on the ground, a lesson learned at Pearl Harbor.

  14. Steve Skubinna says:

    The recovery of the nuke lost off Spain was featured, in a highly fictionalized manner, in the film Men of Honor. The fact is that the bomb was far too deep for a diver to locate, so all that neat footage of Cuba Gooding Jr getting dragged around by a Soviet sub tangled in his lines was nonsense.

    The bomb was actually located by Alvin, a USN deep submersible jointly operated with Woods Hole. Carl Brashear was aboard the recovery vessel, rigging the hoist which ended up parting and taking off his leg.