It’s amazing what we can learn from the Freedom of Information Act. Like that one time in 1961 when the U.S. Air Force almost detonated an atomic bomb over North Carolina.
That’s right, with a devastating shock wave 260 times more powerful than what decimated Hiroshima in 1945, two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs nearly razed Goldsboro, North Carolina, and any life remotely close by.
Due to a B-52 bomber that went into a tailspin shortly after launch, the entire east coast suddenly became sitting ducks to the lethal fallout of nearly four million tons of TNT, from Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York City. The truly frightening part is that everything worked nearly perfectly after the bomber crumbled. One of the bombs began its descent, opening its parachutes and activating its trigger mechanisms.
Literally millions of lives were saved when thankfully one safety mechanism was initiated. As it turned out, the other three failed to work properly, possibly allowing for an unintended detonation. The bomb hit the ground, and a firing signal was sent to the bomb’s nuclear core, making that one switch the only thing stopping near apocalyptic conditions.
This was all discovered by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, who received the shocking document under the Freedom of Information Act. The document from 1961 quoted “a senior engineer in the Sandia national laboratories responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons concludes that ‘one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe.’”
In his new book on the nuclear arms race, Command and Control, Schlosser revealed at least 700 "significant" accidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons between 1950 and 1968.
He added, "the U.S. government has consistently tried to withhold information from the American people in order to prevent questions being asked about our nuclear weapons policy … We were told there was no possibility of these weapons accidentally detonating, yet here's one that very nearly did."
With one wrong zap, with one less safety measure, the security controls would have been rendered useless. Luckily, one hydrogen bomb fell into a field near Faro, North Carolina, and the other simply tumbled into a meadow off Big Daddy's Road to be lost in history and paperwork, until now.