How the US Nearly Detonated a Nuclear Bomb over North Carolina


One of the biggest fears of the Americans during the Cold War era was the possibility that Soviet Union might drop an atomic bomb on US soil. However, such disastrous attack did not materialize. Ironically, it was the US military nearly wiped out a major part of North Carolina.

In a secret report, first published by The Guardian, reveals how close it was for the US Air Force to detonate an atomic bomb over North Carolina on January 23, 1961. The declassified report was acquired by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act. In his book Command and Control, Schlosser wrote that the two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs that were accidentally dropped in North Carolina were 260 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

As the B-52 bomber broke up on mid air, the Mark 39 bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina. The bombs has 4 safety mechanisms, 3 of them were unlocked in the course of the fall. Fortunately, the low-voltage switch prevented the disaster.

This was not the first time that the US came close to a potential explosive disaster. Schlosser also mentioned in his book the safety slip-up in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980 wherein a wrench is accidentally dropped nearly detonated a nine-megaton thermonuclear warhead carrying more than the explosive power of all the bombs dropped during World War II.

Moreover, Schlosser discovered that at least 700 “significant” accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded between 1950 and 1968 alone.

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Robert Manto

Robert Manto is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE