Wow: Nukes Almost Accidentally Dropped in NC in 1961

Indeed, they were dropped, just not exploded.  Via the BBC:  US plane in 1961 ‘nuclear bomb near-miss’

A four-megaton nuclear bomb was one switch away from exploding over the US in 1961, a newly declassified US document confirms.

Two bombs were on board a B-52 plane that went into an uncontrolled spin over North Carolina – both bombs fell and one began the detonation process.


The US government has acknowledged the accident before, but never made public how close the bomb came to detonating.


The plane was on a routine flight when it began to break up over North Carolina on 23 January 1961.

As it was breaking apart, a control inside the cockpit released the two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs over Goldsboro.

One fell to the ground unarmed. But the second "assumed it was being deliberately released over an enemy target – and went through all its arming mechanisms save one, and very nearly detonated over North Carolina," Mr Schlosser told the BBC’s Katty Kay.

Only the failure of a single low-voltage switch prevented disaster, he said.

One can but imagine what a nuclear explosion on US soil would have done to national politics in 1961.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Tony W says:

    As you suggest, I’m pretty sure there would have been an international incident, with the conspiracy folks talking about how it was actually the US military that dropped it.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    Rachel Maddow mentioned this incident in Drift. The uncontrolled spin followed the fire and explosion that damaged a wing. (The crew punched out OK.) This bomb would appear to be the one that parachuted down and was recovered. The other one IS FRACKING STILL THERE, buried in a boggy field. PLUTONIUM ferchrisake. And we were regarded as very careful about this stuff. What do you suppose the Russians have lying around somewhere?

    The US admits to having “lost” eleven nuclear warheads. Hopefully, most of this is accounting, but jeebuz. And this was back when the strategic nuclear stuff was the elite of the AF, not a backwater.

  3. Scott says:

    Aren’t there nukes lost in the bay near Savannah?

  4. Rick Almeida says:

    Outside of Florence, SC, there is a marker on US 301 commemorating the accidental drop of an unarmed nuclear weapon in 1958. I work just about a half-mile away.