Goldsboro, North Carolina, January 23, 1961. A U.S. Air Force B-52 breaks-up in the sky, as two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs fall towards the earth, all by accident.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, Journalist Eric Schlosser unveiled declassified documents that described the incidents that had occurred nearly fifty years ago, initially reported by the U.K.'s the Guardian.
As the giant B-52 bomber head into a tailspin, a mechanism deployed both warheads; one was unarmed, but the other wasn't. The first bomb fell safely into a meadow, however the second barely avoided detonation, and fell into a field near Faro, North Carolina. The Faro bomb was equipped with four safety mechanisms, designed to prevent an unintended explosion. However of the four, three had failed to activate, and as a result, the warhead had gone through its typical deployment process; its parachute opened, trigger mechanisms engaged, and the fourth anti-detonation switch, a low voltage mechanism, prevented the calamity.
Schlosser told BBC that had the detonation taken place, it would've "changed literally the course of history." The author of the declassified documents as well commented, "It would have been bad news in spades." Had the detonation taken place, millions of American lives would've been placed in danger, where radioactive material would have been scattered across the entire Eastern seaboard, reaching places such as New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and even the nation's capital.
Both MK 39 hydrogen bombs contained 4 megatons of payload, which was equal to about 4 million tons of TNT. The bombs were approximately 260 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during WWII.
The incident occurred at the heights of the Cold War, where during this time period the U.S. constantly sought to assure the American public that an accidental nuclear detonation was never likely, yet here a low voltage switch stood between catastrophe and savior, Schlosser had remarked.
The U.S. Government has yet had no comment with regard to the newly released details of the document.