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Yep, We Nearly Blew Up North Carolina
1961 blast could've had 260 times the power of that in Hiroshima
By Arden Dier, Newser Staff
Posted Jun 12, 2014 9:48 AM CDT
In this Aug. 6, 1945 file photo released by the U.S. Army, a mushroom cloud billows about one hour after a nuclear bomb was detonated above Hiroshima, Japan.   (AP Photo/U.S. Army via Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, HO, File)

(Newser) – A part of North Carolina came dangerously close to being obliterated in 1961. A newly declassified report discusses a US bomber that broke in half while flying over the state in January of that year, causing the two nuclear bombs it was carrying to plummet to the ground near Goldsboro—and reveals that those bombs came much closer to detonation than was previously known. A parachute opened for one of the bombs, which landed intact; the safing pins that conducted power from a generator had been pulled, preventing a blast. Still, it completed five of the six steps to detonation, Fox News reports. Had two cockpit wires touched as the plane disintegrated, it could have exploded. As for the second bomb, it landed in a freefall, which caused the switch to flip to the "armed" position, RT reports.

What kept it from going off? "The shock also damaged the switch contacts, which had to be intact for the weapon to detonate," the National Security Archive's Bill Burr explains. The incident was first mentioned in a book by Eric Schlosser last year, but the report confirms just how close the US came to devastation. As CNN points out, the MK39 bombs had an explosive yield of 3.8 megatons; the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were 0.01 and 0.02 megatons, respectively. "There would have been a 100% kill zone for 8.5 miles in every direction," said the Air Force weapons specialist tasked with disarming the bombs. "By the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted," Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said at the time. (This scientist's mathematical model could help you survive should a nuclear bomb strike.)

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Jun 13, 2014 7:04 PM CDT
Well since it did happen only 2 miles from where I live, I think someone (and everyone who lives in this area during that time) did notice. My Dad and a neighbor went down there about 30 minutes after it happened and were turned away by the airforce. They did see one of the airmen who didn't make it with his parachute tangled in a tree. The farm that the one bomb fell on sank in the swampy mud (now it is farm land but there is one area that they are not allowed to touch. Every so often it gets tested for radiation. Yes it did happen and they were very large bombs and for those who says it is a pack of lies, well it just shows what you know...and don't know.
Jun 13, 2014 6:05 PM CDT
Would anyone notice?
Jun 13, 2014 12:09 PM CDT
The scary part of this whole thing is not that NC would be a mess. It is what would have happened in the minutes and hours following the blast. Would the US confirm quickly enough that it was their own bomb? It might have been mistaken for the start of a Soviet attack, and with so little time to respond the US might have already begun the "counterattack" leading to a real Soviet attack. That's the real problem with weapons like this and a government so big that the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing.