In 1961 Two Nuclear Bombs, each 250 Times the Power of the Hiroshima Nuclear Bomb, Were Dropped on North Carolina

In 1961 Two Nuclear Bombs, each 250 Times the Power of the Hiroshima Nuclear Bomb, Were Dropped on North Carolina

Stephanie Schoppert - November 16, 2016

On January 23rd/24th 1961, around midnight a B-52G bomber was scheduled to do an aerial refueling. The bomber was based at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro and was carrying two 3-4 megaton Mark 39 nuclear bombs. When the bomber was hooking up to the tanker the aircraft commander Major Walter Scott Tulloch noticed that the plane had a fuel leak in the right wing. The refueling was brought to a halt so that ground control could be notified and the men could figure out what to do.

Ground control told the B-52 to maintain a holding position off the coast until most of the fuel was used up. Yet the size of the leak was greatly underestimated and while it only took 3 minutes to reach the designated holding position 37,000 pounds of fuel had already been lost. Ground control then told the pilots to immediately return and land back at Seymour Air Force Base.

The crew directed the aircraft back toward base. When they began their descent to 10,000 feet things went wrong. The pilots were unable to keep the plane in trim and completely lost control. The pilot in command of the craft told all crew to eject at 9,000 feet. Five of the men survived, two died on the aircraft and one died after bailing out. As the surviving crew steadily fell toward the ground they reported seeing the plane intact.

However, it did not remain that way for long. The plane broke apart before impact and released the two hydrogen thermonuclear bombs that it had been carrying. The plane was somewhere around 1,000 to 2,000 feet when it broke apart and the wreckage of the plane was found 12 miles north of Goldsboro. Each bomb had four different arming mechanisms and while one bomb did not arm at all, the other had three of the mechanisms activated. As the bomb fell 1,000 feet it began to execute the steps needed for a successful detonation including charging the firing capacitors and deploying the retard parachute.

Both of the bombs hit the ground without detonating much to the relief of everyone involved and to the survival of everyone nearby. The Pentagon released a statement that there was no chance the bombs could have exploded. The U.S. Department of Defense said the same, that the bombs were unarmed and could not detonate. But information obtained in 2013 due to the Freedom of Information Act revealed the shocking truth of how close North Carolina and the United States had been to experiencing a massive nuclear explosion.

What information was released in 2013? Read on to find out!

In 1961 Two Nuclear Bombs, each 250 Times the Power of the Hiroshima Nuclear Bomb, Were Dropped on North Carolina

The bomb that had deployed its parachute was actually found standing upright because the parachute had been caught in a tree. It also hit the ground without any damage to it was far easier to recover than the bomb that did not deploy a parachute. The second bomb landed into a muddy field going an astonishing 700 miles an hour. Most of the bomb disintegrated on impact but some parts were able to be recovered. The tail of the bomb was found 20 feet underground. Contrary to what the Pentagon and the Department of Defense had stated, this bomb was partially armed when it left the plane. Luckily it did not progress any further through the arming sequence due to an unclosed high-voltage switch.

In 2013, after the information had been released Lt. Jack ReVelle, the bomb disposal expert who was responsible for disarming the bombs spoke about the discovery of the second bomb. When the second bomb’s switch was found ReVelle recalled “Until my death I will never forget hearing my sergeant say, “Lieutenant, we found the arm/safe switch, ‘And I said, Great.’ He said, ‘Not great. It’s on arm.” The report in 2013 also revealed just how close the first bomb had been to detonation. It had gone through the entire arming process and only one un-flipped switch (out of 4) prevented the bomb from detonating.

The first bomb was easily recovered and removed. The second was considered too difficult to excavate and it was simply left there. Most of the uranium and plutonium is still there but the core of the bomb was removed. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bought a 400 feet easement over the buried nuclear bomb.

The sheer destructive power of the nuclear bombs that very nearly destroyed a major portion of the Eastern seaboard of the United States is astonishing. It is estimated that each bomb exceeded the year of all munitions (with the exclusion of testing) ever detonated in the history of the world (TNT, gunpower, conventional bombs and nuclear bombs) combined. Each one had 250 times the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. A report in 1969 found that the bombs did not have adequate safety for an airborne role. In 1964 major engineering changes came to the B-52 to fix points of weakness and ensure that the problems that caused the 1961 crash, never happened again.