A declassified report released by the National Security Archive this week reveals that North Carolina was almost devastated by two nuclear bombs that literally fell out of a bomber class plane and, if not for the fact that the “wires did not touch,” the bombs would have exploded and killed hundreds of thousands.
Reports CNN on June 12: “On a January night in 1961, a U.S. Air Force bomber broke in half while flying over North Carolina. From the belly of the B-52 fell two bombs – two nuclear bombs that hit the ground near the city of Goldsboro. A disaster worse than the devastation wrought in Hiroshima and Nagasaki could have befallen the United States that night. But it didn't, thanks to a series of fortunate missteps.”
The telling headline read: "Multi-Megaton Bomb Was Virtually 'Armed' When It Crashed to Earth."
According to CNN, the incident was first detailed last year in the book "Command and Control" by Eric Schlosser. The documents released this week provided additional chilling details.
The “Goldsboro incident” occurred on Jan. 24, 1961. One of the two nuclear ordnance bombs on board was armed when it hit the ground near Goldsboro, N.C., according to the report released Monday.
Had the bomb’s triggering mechanism not been damaged in the fall, the weapon could have exploded, setting off the other bomb and causing one of the worst disasters in American history.
Bill Burr of the National Security Archives released a statement this week about the near catastrophe:
“The report implied that because Weapon 2 landed in a free-fall, without the parachute operating, the timer did not initiate the bomb’s high voltage battery, a step in the arming sequence,” Burr wrote. “For Weapon 2, the Arm/Safe switch was in the ‘safe’ position, yet it was virtually armed because the impact shock had rotated the indicator drum to the ‘armed’ position. But the shock also damaged the switch contacts, which had to be intact for the weapon to detonate.”
“Perhaps this is what Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had in mind, a few years later, when he observed that, ‘by the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted.’”
Three U.S. Air Force personnel flying the B-52 died that day, though the incident could have been far worse.