A B-52 Bomber crash in 1961 dropped two hydrogen bombs on North Carolina, and recently declassified documents have revealed a chilling fact: One of the weapons was armed when it hit the ground.
The incident, which took place in the skies above Goldsboro, North Carolina, came to light last year, as The Inquisitr reported. A newly declassified report published this past Monday by the National Security Archives, however, is giving a fresh perspective on the accident, and shows just how close the United States came to a major nuclear incident.
According to the document, one of the bombs was actually armed by the time it hit the ground. While the safety systems worked properly on the first bomb, “weapon 2” (as the report calls the second bomb) was effectively ready to detonate when it came to earth. The force of impact damaged the bomb’s mechanisms, rotating the indicator drum to “armed.” The only thing that prevented the hydrogen bomb from detonating, according to a report in MailOnline, was a simple switch that had also been damaged in the crash.
Writing for the National Security Archive, William Burr pointed out that “safing” pins meant to deny electrical power to the bombs were removed by the force of the crash. The second bomb’s high-voltage battery was also not initiated, ostensibly because the weapon “landed in a free-fall” without the parachute opening. The force of the impact also damaged contacts on a simple, low-voltage switch aboard the 24 megaton MK 39 bomb, which was necessary for the weapon to detonate.
The consequences of the Goldsboro bomb detonating would have been immense. Since each bomb was far more powerful than those used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, the potential fallout could have spread up the eastern seaboard, contaminating areas as far away as New York City.
Shockingly, the Goldsboro incident wasn’t the only time in history that the United States military had accidents with nuclear weapons. As Bustle reports, an Air Force bomber dropped a nuclear weapon on the sea off British Columbia in 1950 after experiencing mechanical issues. Although the bomb detonated on impact, the crew was able to survive. Another bomb was lost in 1958 in an air crash near Savannah, Georgia, while amazingly four bombs were lost over Spain in 1966. Writing about the incidents in his book Command And Control: Nuclear Weapons, The Damascus Accident, And The Illusion of Safety, Eric Schlosser also pointed out 700 “significant” accidents involving nuclear and hydrogen bombs between 1950 and 1968.
[Images via National Security Archive]