US Air Force once dropped live hydrogen bomb on North Carolina – report

34_siThe US Air Force inadvertently dropped an atomic bomb over North Carolina in 1961. If a simple safety switch had not prevented the explosive from detonating, millions of lives across the northeast would have been at risk, a new document has revealed.

The revelation offers the first conclusive evidence after decades  of speculation that the US military narrowly avoided a  self-inflicted disaster. The incident is explained in detail in a  recently declassified document written by Parker F. Jones,  supervisor of the nuclear weapons safety department at Sandia  National Laboratories.

The document – written in 1969 and titled “How I Learned to  Mistrust the H-bomb,” a play on the Stanley Kubrick film title   “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the  Bomb” – was disclosed to the Guardian by journalist Eric  Schlosser.

Three days after President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, a B-52  bomber carrying two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs departed from  Goldsboro, North Carolina on a routine flight along the East  Coast. The plane soon went into a tailspin, throwing the bombs  from the B-52 into the air within striking distance of multiple  major metropolitan centers.

Each of the explosives carried a payload of 4 megatons – roughly  the same as four million tons of TNT explosive – which could have  triggered a blast 260 times more powerful than the atomic bomb  that wiped out Hiroshima at the end of World War II.

One of the bombs performed in the same way as those dropped over  Japan less than 20 years before – by opening its parachute and  engaging its trigger mechanisms. The only thing that prevented  untold thousands, or perhaps millions, from being killed was a  simple low voltage switch that failed to flip.That hydrogen bomb, known as MK 39 Mod 2, descended onto tree  branches in Faro, North Carolina, while the second explosive  landed peacefully off Big Daddy’s Road in Pikeville. Jones  determined that three of the four switches designed to prevent  unintended detonation on MK 39 Mod 2 failed to work properly, and  when a final firing signal was triggered that fourth switch was  the only safeguard that worked.

Nuclear fallout from a detonation could have risked millions of  lives in Baltimore, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City,  and the areas in between.

The MK Mod 2 bomb did not possess adequate safety for the  airborne alert role in the B-52,” Jones wrote in his 1969  assessment. He determined “one simple, dynamo-technology, low  voltage switch stood between the United States and a major  catastrophe…It would have been bad news – in spades.”

Before Schlosser brought the document to light through a Freedom  of Information Act request, the US government long denied that  any such event ever took place.

The US government has consistently tried to withhold  information from the American people in order to prevent  questions being asked about our nuclear weapons policy,” he  told the Guardian. “We were told there was no possibility of  these weapons accidentally detonating, yet here’s one that very  nearly did.”

In “Command and Control,” Schlosser’s new book on the nuclear  arms race between the US and the Soviet Union, the journalist  writes that he discovered a minimum of 700 “significant”   accidents involving nuclear weapons in the years between 1950 and  1968.


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