Declassified Report Details Near Nuclear Destruction Of North Carolina In 1961

Justin Smith Contributor
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Two nuclear bombs almost wiped out North Carolina on the night of January 24, 1961, a newly declassified report released by the National Security Archive says. 

A B-52 bomber carrying two nuclear bombs broke in half over the small town of Goldsboro, N.C., killing three of the eight crew members on board and releasing the bombs. The bombs were MK39’s, weighing 10,000 pounds with an explosive yield of 3.8 megatons. To put that in perspective, the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had explosive yields of 0.01 and 0.02 megatons respectively.

The bombs miraculously didn’t explode due to mechanical failures. The first bomb landed with its parachute intact, but didn’t explode because the safing pins that gave power from the generator to the weapon had been pulled, effectively shutting down the bomb. The second bomb landed without its parachute deploying, which damaged a part of the bomb needed to initiate an explosion. The force of the impact triggered the bomb into the “armed” setting when it landed.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was quoted in the report as saying “By the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted. A local farmer said “I heard the whine of an airplane about to land, then there was a big explosion. It almost knocked me out of bed. I got up and ran to the window and saw my whole field on fire.”

The crew members were forced to eject from the plane. Survivor of the crash Lieutenant William R. Wilson reported, “I don’t know how it happened. I know when I landed in the field I felt awfully good. I felt like running.”

After the crash, crews went on the hunt for a piece of uranium missing from one of the bombs that was vital to its detonation, but the piece was never found. The Air Force  eventually purchased the land surrounding the crash site to prevent people from digging and looking for materials.

Radiation tests on the crash site over the years have turned up no threat of harmful substances. At the time of the crash, the government stressed to the townspeople that the bombs had no chance of detonating, but this new report suggests otherwise.