Monday, September 23, 2013


News Limited Network September 21, 2013 

Nuclear device
The United States was one spark away from the detonation of a four-megaton hydrogen bomb over North Carolina when a B-52 bomber broke-up mid air in 1961. Source: Supplied
IT'S the nuclear nightmare that actually happened: A 1960s US bomber broke up in mid air, a warhead dropped - and automatically armed itself. And this was over North Carolina.
A declassified document, part of a new book titled Atomic Gaffes by Eric Schlosser, reveals how a defective hydrogen bomb, some 260 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima, came dramatically close to flattening a large swathe of the US county of Goldsboro on January 23, 1961.
This was just three days after President John F Kennedy had made his inaugural address as President.
The radioactive fallout could have affected millions as it drifted over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and even New York.
Two Mark 39 four-megaton hydrogen bombs were aboard a B-52 bomber which encountered difficulties shortly after taking off from the Seymour Johnson Air Force base in Goldsboro.
The heavy, multi-engine jet went into a tail-spin and broke up in mid-air during a live Cold War deployment.
An early model Boeing B-52 in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The two bombs broke free.
One of the free-falling weapons automatically deployed its parachute and armed its trigger mechanism. There were four "fail-safe" devices built into the bomb. Three of them failed.
All that prevented the plummeting super-weapon from going off was a single electronic switch.
Both hydrogen bombs ended up burying themselves deep in fields in the North Carolina countryside.
The document, obtained through a freedom of information investigation, reveals the lie behind persistent US Government denials that American lives have ever been put at risk through safety flaws with its nuclear arsenal.
A senior engineer responsible for the safety of nuclear weapons conceded in a secret 1970s study into the accident: "One simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe".
This final line of defence could easily have been shorted by a simple electrical spark, he wrote.
The engineer, Parker F Jones, wrote his secret report "Goldsboro Revisited or: How I learned to Mistrust the H-Bomb" some eight years after the accident.
The title was a reference to Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film, Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
From the movie Dr Strangelove

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