In 1961, at the height of the Cold War, A B-52 Stratofortress bomber carrying four megaton Mark 39 nuclear bombs broke up mid-air following a fuel leak. The pilot in command, Walter Scott Tulloch, ordered his crew to eject at 9,000 feet above Goldsboro, North Carolina, US. Five crewmen successfully bailed out the aircraft and survived, while three others were not so lucky, either dying from the crash itself or the landing.
However, thanks to information declassified in 2013, it has been revealed just how close the nuclear bombs on board were to detonating too.
The papers, titled “How I learned to mistrust the H-Bomb”, were obtained by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act.
They show how a senior engineer responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons concluded: “One simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe.”
Parker F. Jones found that the bombs that were dropped were inadequate in their safety controls and the final switch that prevented disaster could easily have been shorted by an electrical jolt, leading to a nuclear blast and the possible annihilation of millions of people.
Declassified documents show how the events unfolded (Image: GETTY/ARCHIVE)
A fuel leak caused the crew to bail on the bomber (Image: WIKI)
One simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe
Parker F. Jones
The incident occurred after the bomber left Seymour Johnson Air Base for a routine flight along the US East Coast.
However, the crew on board soon learned of a fuel leak on the right wing of the plane and were forced to evacuate via parachute.
As the jet went into tailspin, the hydrogen bombs on board were separated and flung towards the ground at a rate of knots.
One fell into a field near Faro, North Carolina, after its parachute was caught in a tree, but the second plunged into another nearby meadow at around 700