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Atomic Bombs Dropped in North Carolina in 1961

Updated on June 21, 2015

On January 24, 1961, at about 12:30 AM, a B-52 plane exploded in the skies over Goldsboro and Faro, NC. It was carrying two Mark 39 thermonuclear bombs which disengaged when the jet disintegrated. Apparently the right wing of the B-52 began to leak fuel causing the explosion. Three crewmen were killed and five survived.

Each of the disengaged bombs had a yield of 2 to 4 megatons. That's 250 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The parachute on one bomb opened and it landed relatively gently and was recovered quickly. The parachute on the other bomb never opened and it crashed into a marshy area on a local farm. It was difficult to retrieve and only part of the bomb was recovered. The component that contains the nuclear material is still in the ground to this day possibly as deep as a 150 feet.

No one knows for sure how close the good people of Wayne County, North Carolina came to being part of a historic nuclear catastrophe. Government officials claim safety devices in place assured the worst would never happen. But just the thought that these jets (and how many others?) are flying our friendly skies above our heads with active bombs is unnerving.

The environmental consequences of that incident are still ongoing. The federal government purchased the swatch of land where the one bomb was not entirely recovered in an effort to prevent people from digging in the area more than five feet. The state of North Carolina tests radiation levels of the water in that area yearly. So far tests have shown radiation levels as normal.

I believe atomic bombs are monsters we created that we can't control. There's too much at stake. There's too much that could go wrong.


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    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      I was nine years of age at the time of this incident and living in Michigan. I have no recollection of the accident whatsoever.

      In my high school Physics class, the instructor commented how one day all a family's energy needs for a lifetime would come out of a little box. This would be made possible by nuclear energy. The half life of uranium is extremely long. At that point in time, nuclear sounded hopeful.

      On the other hand, I had a brother who worked on a nuclear ship while in the Navy during the 60s. The radioactivity affected many crewmen aboard that ship. After discharge, he broke his leg playing ball. I believe the x-rays administered during his diagnosis complicated his previous radiation exposure. Consequently, he suffered from leukemia, incurable at the time in our rural area, and died at the age of 32, leaving a wife and two little girls. Today the government offers a subsidy for the dependents of veterans who suffered from radioactive exposure. I don't know if the program is still ongoing, but an article appeared in the June issue of an AARP periodical about a year ago.

      Nuclear is very dangerous. It takes a decade or more to clean up a melt down at a power plant. That, added to the use of nuclear in weapons, makes our world suicidal. We need to turn to renewable resources for our energy, and have zero tolerance for those advocating nuclear development.

      I don't know what the government is doing to clean up radioactive spills, but I sometimes wonder if putting active radium into protected barrels and shooting the entire cargo into the sun would be one solution. Only a nuclear physicist and astrophysicist combined would be able to answer whether that idea was safe and feasible. ***

    • profile image 6 years ago

      Does anyone know "exactly" where the bomb landed? I think my father may have been the "local farmer" because I remember an incident very, very, very similiar to this although I was only 10 yrs old at the time. Would appreciate an email if anyone know anything else about this incident. Thanks in advance.

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Wow! Scary and sobering. If the bombs have such safety mechanisms to keep the unthinkable from happening, why didn't the jet have the same level of safety mechanisms built into it? And can we trust the government's assessment of the security of those mechanisms?

      Thanks for making us all aware of this.

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 6 years ago from North Carolina

      A truer statement of fact is not possible.

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 6 years ago from North Carolina

      suziecat7 reading a new book , 15 minutes to zero.this was a fairly common occurance during the cold war. New info for me here. Thank you.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Gene and Pete - I believe there are a lot of things that go on that the general public is never made aware of - Thank you both for the comments.

    • Pete Maher profile image

      Pete Maher 6 years ago

      I've known of one off the coast of South Carolina for years. I just read about one in the north Pacific... never knew that one (or two) hit land in NC.

    • profile image

      Gene Johnson 7 years ago

      A loose/lost nuke is termed a "broken arrow" in military parlance. The alleged UFO crash in Kecksburg, PA, in 1965 may have been a broken arrow. I have no proof of this, it's one of those "friend of a friend" sources, the original source being someone who was a government operative at the time the incident occurred. If you ever see anything on the Kecksburg incident, witnesses say that the U.S. military immediately established a perimeter and expelled civilians from the area. Witnesses say a large flatbed truck removed an object that was covered with tarps.

    • profile image

      ralwus 7 years ago

      Dam, scary stuff Suzie. I never heard this before. I guess I was 10 when that happened. They are not supposed to detonate upon impact, but still the lost one is not so good.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thank you all for reading.

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 7 years ago from Canada

      wow, I never imagined, this is a powerful sotry with so mcuh information bookmarked and stumbled for traffic blessings to this all imoportant hub.

    • profile image

      Reasonable Robinson 8 years ago

      What an amazing and sobering story. I had never heard it before and am surprised it is not more well known. I studied Strategic Studies for my undergrad degree and we never came across this. Really interesting!

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 8 years ago from Guwahati, India

      January 24, 1961 is a sorrowful day like August 5, 1945, where Nuclear Bomb exploded by an accident. Hundreds of children were died and affected. America the creator of Atom Bomb had tested the horrified effect of Bombs. It was pathetic and pathetic……. No more nuke ‘no more nuke your You Tube sound is so touchy.

    • VincentMontenegro profile image

      VincentMontenegro 8 years ago

      Thank you for this important of the many things that passed unnoticed.

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 8 years ago

      This is news to me. Thank you from another N. Carolinian. Thanks for joining my fan club.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Lost mt comment. Basically I was saying that the world is too complacent about such threats and incidents. They kept this one quiet. I was around back then and do not remember any press.

    • Kebennett1 profile image

      Kebennett1 8 years ago from San Bernardino County, California

      Hi suziecat7, Great Hub.I did not know anything about this either. How skin tingling! That could have proven to be a massive disaster. I agree Nuclear weapons are monsters no one should use.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Hi Patty - I couldn't believe this story myself. Many folks know nothing about all this. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thank you for this article, about which event I knew nothing. The nuclear material of the unrecovered bomb is still decaying in the ground and perhaps entering the water supply.

      This seems to be more widespread than public knowledge encompasses -- USSR nuclear subs from the same era sit in northern Russian harbors, their nuclear material still decaying into the sea around St. Petersburg.