A declassified document reveals that North Carolina and the entire Eastern Seaboard narrowly escaped horrific disaster January 24th, 1961. How close was the United States to a cataclysmic event after a brush with an atom bomb a mere 4 days after John F. Kennedy’s inauguration?
The early 1960’s was a time when fallout shelters, supposed safe havens from nuclear attack, existed in school basements and churches. Drills were held in community centers and factories to inform and protect. Citizens felt a sense of safety that comes with preparedness.
Did the United States almost cause its own nuclear disaster?
It seems that one simple switch mechanism separated a typical winter day from a day of infamy.
On that morning, a B-52 bomber carrying 2 thermonuclear devices crashed. The atomic bombs bolted to the plane released and fell to the ground near the town of Faro, North Carolina.
The doomed plane was participating in an “airborne alert” mission. The B-52 bomber and its radioactive payload was part of a national defense plan to keep nuclear weapons “on the ready.” The crash resulted in the death of 3 crewmen.
Journalist Eric Schlosser obtained, through the Freedom of Information Act, a document that reveals how close North Carolina and the entire East Coast was from a history changing nuclear nightmare.
Citizens slept in their beds that night peacefully unaware of their brush with 2 atom bombs. Until recently, there has only been speculation about the severity of this near miss. Now, it is evident that a simple low-voltage switch possibly saved millions of lives.
The potential blast would have been an estimated 260 times more powerful than what detonated over Hiroshima, Japan in August of 1945.
The epic immediate and massive residual impact fanning out beyond ground zero would have changed the course of history.
Fallout would have rained over New York City. Much of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C.’s populations surely would have perished from the effects of radiation. The total impact on the United States?
Schlosser, through his research, also reveals that hundreds of notable accidents and over 1,000 documented incidents involving the United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal occurred during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Some of these incidents were disclosed to the American public. Many, including the events in North Carolina in 1961, were deemed underreported.
During the Cold War era, the U.S. government tightly held information on nuclear weapon policy. Would the detailing of such dramatic incidents to the general public be an avenue of compromise to national security?
Questions have arisen regarding the tonnage of the yield of the model MK39 thermonuclear devices that fell in the fields. Debate has ensued on whether the weapons were “armed” or “unarmed” when they were falling through the North Carolina sky. The military use of those two words, with regard to weaponry, is not strictly precise.
Was the nation’s security and safety at risk from its own arsenal during the Cold War era?
The revelation of America’s brush with the atom bomb over the sky of North Carolina remains a heart stopping piece of history.
By Jennifer Knickman