Atom Bomb Almost Detonated Over NC in 1961


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According to a newly declassified document published on Saturday, two hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina in 1961. The incident occurred when a B-52 bomber carrying the weapons ripped in half mid-flight on January 23, during the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

One of the bombs began to detonate, but was held together by a single switch - after three other safety mechanisms failed. U.S. government scientist Parker F. Jones wrote a document on the incident in 1969, saying that a detonation would've been "bad news in spades." The document was uncovered by investigative reporter Eric Schlosser under a freedom of information legislation.

The almost-detonated bomb is said to have been roughly 260 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. Schlosser states that "the US government has consistently tried to withhold information from the American people in order to prevent questions being asked about our nuclear weapons policy. We were told there was no possibility of these weapons accidentally detonating, yet here's one that very nearly did." Jones jokingly entitled his 1969 report, "Goldsboro Revisited, or: How I Learned To Mistrust the H-Bomb," a play on Stanley Kubrick's 1964 nuclear holocaust comedy "Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."

When the U.S. military dropped the atom bomb called "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, some 80,000 residents were directly killed. By the end of the year, injury and radiation brought total casualties to 90,000–140,000. Roughly 69% of the city's structures were completely destroyed, and another 7% were severely damaged. The bomb in the report would've essentially leveled the area around Goldsboro, which has a present population of 113,000. And, how an incident like that would've played out during the Cold War is hard to imagine.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.