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A thermonuclear bomb slammed into a North Carolina farm in 1961 — and part of it is still missing via Business Insider

  • In 1961, a US nuclear bomber broke up over North Carolina farmland, killing three of eight crew members.
  • The accident dropped two powerful hydrogen bombs over the area, but they did not detonate.
  • The military fully recovered one of the bombs.
  • While the second bomb was mostly recovered, one of its nuclear cores is likely still buried in up to 200 feet of mud and dirt.

Disaster struck early in the morning of January 24, 1961, as eight servicemen in a nuclear bomber were patrolling the skies near Goldsboro, North Carolina.

[…]

Each Mark 39 thermonuclear bomb was about 12 feet long, weighed more than 6,200 pounds, and could detonate with the energy of 3.8 million tons of TNT. Such a blast could kill everyone and everything within a diameter of about 17 miles — roughly the area inside the Washington, DC, beltway.

But the jet airplane and three of its crew members never returned to base, and neither did a nuclear core from one of the bombs.

The plane broke up about 2,000 feet above the ground, nearly detonating one of the bombs in the process.

Had the weapon exploded, the blast would have packed about 250 times as much explosive power as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

[..]

One bomb safely parachuted to the ground and snagged on a tree. Crews quickly found it, inspected it, and moved it onto a truck.

However, the parachute of the other bomb failed, causing it to slam into a swampy, muddy field and break into pieces. It took crews about a week of digging to find the crumpled bomb and most of its parts.

The military studied the bombs and learned that six of seven steps to blow up one of them had engaged, according to The Register. Only one trigger stopped a blast — that switch was set to “ARM” yet somehow failed to detonate the bomb.

It was only “by the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted,” a declassified 1963 memo described Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense at the time, as saying.

“Had the device detonated, lethal fallout could have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and as far north as New York City — putting millions of lives at risk,” according to a 2013 story by Ed Pilkington in The Guardian.

Read more at A thermonuclear bomb slammed into a North Carolina farm in 1961 — and part of it is still missing 

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