Folks livin’ in either Faro or Goldsboro, North Carolina, can take the above title literally.
Think the U.S. has never been under nuclear attack?
The year was 1961. The Cuban Missile Crisis was 20 months from exploding into an international incident. Vigilant regarding a potential Soviet strike, the U.S. failed to protect its shores against its own worst enemy; itself.
Operation Chrome Dome kept B-52s, equipped with live thermonuclear weapons, flying above the Continental U.S. on a constant basis. These bombers made unsuspecting American citizens vulnerable to accidental nuclear attack by their own military, 365 days a year.
Perpetually sustaining a plane in the air will, in time, wear that aircraft down.
On January 24, 1961, a B-52 en route to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base near Goldsboro, North Carolina, experienced such a scenario. After midnight, fire broke out in the plane’s fuselage, when metal exhaustion sparked seepage in one of the bomber’s fuel tanks. Three of the crew perished in their attempts to escape before the plane combusted.
Separating from the aircraft, a pair of Mark 39 thermonuclear explosives began hurtling toward the ground. Although both devices came equipped with parachutes, only one of these safety apparatuses deployed. As a result, the second of two explosives crashed into a muddy field, after reaching a velocity somewhere near the speed of sound.
Five of six safeguard mechanisms deactivated on the first of the two bombs, leaving a single trigger to avert detonation. The second munition crashed to Earth, creating an impact crater five feet deep and ten feet wide.
The military retrieved the former device, and searched for the latter, which was beneath swampy soil, perhaps moments from exploding. Excavations for the lost munition were carried out in secret, as the government alerted the media they were hunting for a missing seat from the plane crash.
Since the search cost taxpayers half a million dollars, that must have been one really comfortable chair!
The first portions of the bomb were uncovered eight feet below the surface. More remnants were dredged from 12 and 15 feet. At close to 20 feet, chunks of the detonators and arming triggers were unearthed. When the military finally abandoned their efforts to uncover crucial elements of the device, including its plutonium core, the hole in the ground was 50 feet deep and 200 feet in diameter.
In the end, the massive pit was refilled in attempts to conceal what horror still lies beneath.
The original owner of the land was allowed to replant crops he had cultivated prior to the crash, but was prohibited from ever digging in proximity of the location. Although detonation of the nuclear device is no longer an issue, irradiation will be a concern for longer than it takes Dick Van Patten to be voted People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.
In our bonus round, see if you can guess which country on the planet the United States has nuked most. If you concluded “itself,” you’re correct, and win a free, lifetime supply of radioactive fallout.
1,021 nuclear detonations at the Nevada Test Site, alone, and we still credulously believe the exponential increase in cancers is hereditary.
© 2010. Hugh Mungus
Kick, Russ. (2003). 50 Things You’re Not Supposed To Know. pp. 25-27. The Disinformation Company Ltd. ISBN 0-9713942-8-8
Nuclear Rescue 911: Broken Arrows & Incidents. Dir. Peter Kuran. Perfs. Adam West. DVD, 2001. ISBN 1-58565-922-3