1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash

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1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash

One of the Mk 39 nuclear weapons at Goldsboro, largely intact, with its parachute still attached
Accident summary
Date January 24, 1961
Type Structural failure
Site Faro, 12 miles (19 km) north of Goldsboro, North Carolina
35°30′44″N 77°50′47″W / 35.5123°N 77.8463°W / 35.5123; -77.8463Coordinates: 35°30′44″N 77°50′47″W / 35.5123°N 77.8463°W / 35.5123; -77.8463
Crew 8
Fatalities 3
Survivors 5
Aircraft type B-52G
Operator Strategic Air Command, United States Air Force
Registration 58-0187
Flight origin Seymour Johnson Air Force Base
Destination Seymour Johnson Air Force Base

The 1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash was an accident that occurred near Goldsboro, North Carolina, on January 24, 1961. A B-52 Stratofortress carrying two Mark 39 nuclear bombs broke up in mid-air, dropping its nuclear payload in the process.[1][2]

[edit] Accident

1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash is located in North Carolina
Accident scene
North Carolina

The aircraft, a B-52G, was on a 24-hour "Coverall" airborne alert mission on the Atlantic seaboard. Around midnight on January 23–24, 1961, it rendezvoused with a tanker for mid-air refueling. During the hook-up, the tanker crew advised the B-52 aircraft commander, Major W. S. Tulloch, that his aircraft had a leak in its right wing. The refueling was broken off, and ground control notified of the problem. The aircraft was directed to assume a holding pattern off the coast until the majority of fuel was consumed. However when the B-52 reached its assigned position, the pilot reported that the leak had worsened and that 37,000 pounds (17,000 kg) of fuel had been lost in three minutes. The aircraft was immediately directed to land at Seymour Johnson Air Base. As it descended through 10,000 feet (3,000 m) on its approach to the airfield, the pilots were no longer able to keep the aircraft in trim and lost control of it. The captain ordered the crew to eject, which they did at 9,000 feet (2,700 m). Five men ejected and landed safely. One ejected but did not survive the landing, and two died in the crash.[3] The crew last saw the aircraft intact with its payload of two Mark 39 nuclear weapons on board.[2] The wreckage of the aircraft covered a 2-square-mile (5.2 km2) area of tobacco and cotton farmland at Faro, near Goldsboro.[4]

The two nuclear weapons separated from the gyrating aircraft as it broke up between 10,000 and 2,000 feet (3,000 and 610 m). Five of the six arming mechanisms on one of the bombs activated, causing it to execute many of the steps needed to arm itself, such as charging the firing capacitors and, critically, deployment of a 100-foot-diameter (30 m) retard parachute. The parachute allowed that bomb to hit the ground with little damage.

According to former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, he saw highly classified documents indicating that the pilot’s safe/arm switch was the only one of the six arming devices on the bomb that prevented detonation.[1][5] The Pentagon claims that there was no chance of an explosion and that two arming mechanisms had not activated. A United States Department of Defense spokesperson told United Press International reporter Donald May that the bomb was unarmed and could not explode.[5] Later, however, it was found that both bombs were fully functional.[6]

The second bomb plunged into a muddy field at around 700 miles per hour (310 m/s) and disintegrated.[7] The tail was discovered about 20 feet (6.1 m) below ground. Parts of the bomb were recovered, including its tritium bottle and the plutonium. However, excavation was abandoned as a result of uncontrollable ground-water flooding. Most of the thermonuclear stage, containing uranium, was left in situ. The Army Corps of Engineers purchased a 400 foot circular easement over the buried component.[8] The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill determined the buried depth of the secondary component to be 180 feet, plus or minus 10 feet.[9]

The third pilot of the bomber, Lt. Adam Mattocks, is the only man known to have successfully bailed out of the top hatch of a B-52 without an ejection seat.[10][11] The commander of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, Lt. Jack B. ReVelle, said of the bomb, "How close was it to exploding? My opinion is damn close. You might now have a very large Bay of North Carolina if that thing had gone off." He also said the size of each bomb was 3.8 megatons, more than 250 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb, and large enough to have a 100% kill zone of seventeen miles. Each bomb would exceed the yield of all munitions (outside of testing) ever detonated in the history of the world by TNT, gunpowder, conventional bombs, and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts combined.[12]

In July, 2012, the state of North Carolina erected a historical road marker in the town of Eureka, 3 miles north of the crash site, commemorating the crash under the title "Nuclear Mishap." [13]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Barry Schneider (May 1975). "Big Bangs from Little Bombs". Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: 28. http://books.google.com/?id=dQsAAAAAMBAJ. Retrieved July 13, 2009.
  2. ^ a b James C. Oskins, Michael H. Maggelet (2008). Broken Arrow – The Declassified History of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Accidents. lulu.com. ISBN 1-4357-0361-8. http://books.google.com/?id=gi7HARO8vTcC. Retrieved December 29, 2008.
  3. ^ "Bombs Over Goldsboro". This Month in North Carolina History (January 2008). http://www.lib.unc.edu/ncc/ref/nchistory/jan2008/index.html. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  4. ^ AF Form 14 Report of Aircraft Accident. January 24, 1961.
  5. ^ a b Gary Hanauer (April 1981). "The Pentagon's Broken Arrows". Mother Jones Magazine: 28. http://books.google.com/?id=tOYDAAAAMBAJ. Retrieved July 13, 2009.
  6. ^ OOAMA Airmunitions Letter No. 136.11 56G, HQ. April 18, 1961.
  7. ^ "Nuclear Mishap in Goldsboro". Broken Arrow: Goldsboro, NC (2000). Archived from the original on June 18, 2005. http://www.ibiblio.org/bomb/. Retrieved June 14, 2005.
  8. ^ Deed Book 581, Wayne County (NC) Courthouse: p. 589–91. October 13, 1962.
  9. ^ Hardy, Scott (2005). The Broken Arrow of Camelot: An Analysis of the 1961 B-52 Crash and Loss of the Nuclear Weapon in Faro, North Carolina.
  10. ^ Mattocks, Adam (Feb 8, 2011).
  11. ^ Yancy, N. (January 26, 1961). "Life-Death Story of Flight Told". Greensboro News & Record.
  12. ^ Joel Dobson, author, The Goldsboro Broken Arrow, (2011), Lulu Pub, ISBN 978-1-257-86952-7
  13. ^ Shaffer, Jack (July 2, 2012). "Shaffer: In Eureka, they've found a way to mark 'nuclear mishap.'". News and Observer. http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/07/02/2173231/shaffer-in-eureka-they-have-found.html. Retrieved July 2, 2012.
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