Nuclear Bomb Nearly Wiped Out North Carolina In 1961, Say Terrifying Newly-Declassified Documents

In what may be one of the closest calls to the apocalypse in America, The Guardian published a declassified document last year revealing that a nuclear bomb almost detonated over North Carolina. And this wasn't the work of terrorists or foreign enemies, but the U.S. Air Force. In January 1961, a B-52 bomber broke apart in mid-air, dropping two hydrogen bombs over Goldsboro, N.C. Luckily, the eastern coast of the U.S. was spared when neither bomb detonated, but new details have emerged that illustrate just how close the country was to doomsday.

The National Security Archive published a report Monday that offers terrifying new details about the Goldsboro nuclear scare. As if two hydrogen bombs falling to the earth weren't scary enough, it's been revealed that one of them was within an inch of detonation. The two weapons on board the bomber were both multi-megaton MK 39 bombs, and their fuzing sequences had been initiated due to the impact of the crash, while the lanyards pulled the safing pins off on both bombs.

While weapon 1 landed in the "safe" position, weapon hit the ground in the "armed" position — as in ready to blow. Weapon 2 had been "safe," but the impact of the landing rotated the indicator drum to the "armed" position. But as fate would have it — or perhaps by some miracle — the shock of the crash also damaged the switch contacts, which needed to be intact in order for the weapon to detonate.

The faulty operation of the lanyards prompted analysts to implement a modification program, ALT 197, to all weapons in the "MK 15/39" family.

USAF/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The original Guardian report states that if either bomb had been detonated, lethal fallout could have fallen over Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and = New York City.

To articulate the gravity of the near-disastrous situation, a senior engineer in the Sandia national laboratories responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons concluded in the declassified document that "one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe."

If the Goldsboro incident was so feasible, what other accidents and near-misses have occurred over American soil? Accidents involving nuclear weapons are so common, there are several code names for these incidents, like Broken Arrow, Faded Giant, and NUCFLASH. Here are a few notable ones from the past. Prepare to be even more terrified.

1950 British Columbia Bomb

On February 13, 1950, a U.S. Air Force B-36 bomber was flying a nuclear weapon from an air base in Alaska headed for a simulated drop on San Francisco, when the plane experienced mechanical problems and the crew was forced to jettison the bomb into the Pacific Ocean 8,000 feet from the coast of British Columbia. The bomb detonated upon impact, but the crew parachuted to safety.

1958 Tybee Island Bomb

On February 5, 1958, the U.S. Air Force lost a 7,600-lb. Mark 15 nuclear bomb in the water near Tybee Island near Savannah, GA, when the B-47 carrying the weapon crashed into a F-86 fighter plane. To protect the flight crew, the bomb was jettisoned and forever lost. A possible radiation leak from the underwater bomb is an ongoing concern, although no levels of unnatural radioactive contamination have been detected.

1966 Palomares Bomb

On January 17, 1966, a USAF B-52 carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed into a USAF KC-135 jet tanker while refueling. The conventional explosives in two of the bombs detonated upon impact, while the third bomb fell into Palomares, Spain, intact and the fourth bomb fell 12 miles off the coast into the Mediterranean Sea. Four of the seven crew members on the B-52 parachuted to safety, but the other three along with everyone on the KC-135 were killed.

As a result of the accident, the U.S. settled claims by 522 Palomares residents for $600,000 and the town received a $200,000 desalinization plant. While there has been no evidence of contaminated food or water as a result of the crash, parts of the town remain fenced off and blighted in comparison to other coastal towns in the Mediterranean.

Images: Wikimedia Commons