Investigative journalist Eric Schlosser has uncovered near disaster of epic proportions after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request confirmed that a 4 megaton nuclear bomb almost exploded over North Carolina in 1961 — an explosion that would have been 260 times more powerful than Hiroshima and would have devastated the United States. What is amazing is that, once again, the government used classification laws to hide that fact that it almost destroyed the large part of the country and was saved by a simple low-voltage switch that fortunately was able to deactivate the armed bomb. The details were hidden for over fifty years by the government.
The incident occurred when a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air. For years, many objected to the flying of such weapons over populated areas due to the danger of accidents, which occurred repeatedly in this country and other countries. In this case, two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs fell to Earth on January 23, 1961 and one of the bombs went “hot” with a deployed parachute, trigger mechanism engaged, and ready to explode. Only the single low-voltage switch stopped the explosion. If that little switch had malfunctioned or was damaged, the Air Force would have unleashed the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT explosive on this country — sending lethal fallout over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city.
One would have thought that such an accident would have led to a public debate over safety protocols and flight patterns. However, that did not occur because the public was never told. Instead, Congress and the military repeatedly assured the public that such flights were entirely safe and subject to overlapping failsafe systems.
You will notice that there is no call in Congress to investigate the use of classification laws to hide the incident for over 50 years. Indeed, the story has been barely reported at all.
We do however have a picture of our military safety team responding to the mishap: