The Mark 39 hydrogen bomb had an explosive yield of 4 megatons, equal to 4 million tons of TNT. Two fell accidentally on Goldsboro, N.C., in 1961, and one nearly detonated.(Photo: U.S. Air Forc
Michael Winter -- USA TODAY
One of two hydrogen bombs that a doomed B-52 accidentally dropped on North Carolina in 1961 came perilously close to exploding, according to a recently declassified report.
The 4-megaton Mark 39 bombs -- each packing 260 times the explosive power of the weapon that decimated Hiroshima -- broke loose over Goldsboro, N.C., as the bomber went into a tailspin and crashed.
All four safety mechanisms designed to prevent accidental detonation worked properly on one bomb, which landed in a meadow, but three failed on the other, and only a low-voltage switch kept it from exploding upon impact in a field in Faro, N.C., said the 1969 report.
Had the warhead exploded, radioactive fallout could have spread over the Eastern Seaboard, hitting Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.
The accident happened just three days after President John F Kennedy was inaugurated in January 1961. Five of the eight crew members survived the crash.
The report was obtained by Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser for his newest book, Command and Control, about the nuclear arms race. Schlosser found that between 1950 and 1968 alone, at least 700 "significant" accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded.
Mother Jonesfirst reported Schlosser's findings Sunday, and the Goldsboro incident attracted new attention Friday based on an article in the Guardian. The British paper also published the report, written by Parker F. Jones, the supervisor of the nuclear weapons safety department at Sandia National Laboratories.
Jones titled his report "Goldsboro Revisited or: How I Learned to Mistrust the H-Bomb," a nod to Stanley Kubrick's 1964 nuclear satire, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.