Monday, August 10, 2015


How I did not know this, having lived on the boarder of South Carolina in Augusta, Georgia since 1960, I do not know. But an atomic bomb was dropped on South Carolina in 1958!!!!

I did know that a fighter jet crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just off of Savannah Beach (Tybee Island) around the same time which had an atomic bomb on it. That bomb is still off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, never having been found!

But here is the very scary South Carolina story. I would have been living in Atlanta, a bit further away from South Carolina at the time, but I wonder what would have happened it the atomic part of the bomb had actually gone off? Scary stuff to say the least! And what about that lurking bomb in the Atlantic, when will the salt water do its thing to detonate it?

That time America accidentally dropped a nuke on South Carolina

In the history of terrible mistakes, accidentally dropping a nuclear bomb on your own country has to rank pretty damn high. That's exactly what happened when a really, really stupid accident resulted in America tossing an atom bomb on rural South Carolina.

On March 11, 1958, an Air Force B-47 Stratojet was making its way to the United Kingdom from the Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah, Georgia. It was sent out with the intention of helping out in Operation Snow Flurry, but it never made it.
As the plane was cruising over South Carolina, the pilots noticed that a fault light in the cockpit was indicating a problem with the locking pin on the bomb harnesses in the cargo bay. You see, back then, the plane was required to carry nuclear weapons at all times just in case a war broke out with the Soviet Union. The nuclear bomb in question was as 26-kiloton Mark 6, even more powerful than the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Great idea, right?

Air Force Captain Bruce Kulka was acting as the navigator on the flight and decided to go back and check out the problem. While pulling himself up from the plane floor, he reached around the bomb to steady himself, but ended up grabbing the the bomb's emergency release pin instead. Whoops. Kulka could only look on in horror as the bomb dropped to the floor, pushed open the bomb bay doors, and fell 15,000 feet toward rural South Carolina.
Fortunately for the entire East Coast, the bomb's fission core was stored in a separate part of the plane, meaning that it wasn't technically armed. Unfortunately for Walter Gregg, it was still loaded with about 7,600 pounds of traditional explosives. The resulting explosion leveled his house, flattened a good section of the forest, and created a mushroom cloud that could be seen for miles. When the dust had settled, the bomb had caused a 25-foot-deep crater that measured 75 feet wide, and while it had injured a number of Gregg's family members, miraculously, not a single person was killed.
While you may have never heard about the strange tale of the Carolinas' first brush with a nuke, the crater still exists just off of South Carolina Highway 76, marked by a historical plaque. Visitors can trek down the path that leads to the Mars Bluff Atomic Bomb Crater where they can see the impact site and read an informational board complete with a mock up of the bomb's size. Just make sure you ask the current property owners for permission before you head down the trail. They're generally pretty keen to show the crater off.
Notice how I said this was just the Carolinas' first brush with a nuclear weapon? There was an even scarier accident that happened just a bit north a few years later, and it's one that no even knew about until last year.
Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, investigative journalist Eric Schlosser discovered that on January 23, 1961, a B-52 bomber broke up mid air, dropping two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs over Goldsboro, North Carolina. While one bomb never activated, the second one had its trigger mechanisms engage and its parachute open, two things that only happen when the bomb is intended to explode on target. In fact, only one low-voltage trigger kept it from detonating upon landing.
Scary stuff.


jusadbellum said...

I guess we need to thank God and the engineers for the safety measures built into these devices. The first question after an engineer figures out how to guarantee a 'boom' or 'bang' from a given weapon is to devise how to make sure it only goes boom or bang when the operator wants it to and not a second before.

On firearms this works by a) not loading the weapon until it's time to fire b) not 'racking a round' if the weapon's magazine is loaded but the chamber is not and c) not placing one's finger on the trigger until one is ready to fire.

A loaded weapon with a round chambered will NOT (or ought not) go 'bang' until the trigger is depressed. Merely dropping or shaking the gun ought not to do it. Guns can't just "go off" any more than a stapler ought to just staple or a hammer drive a nail by itself.

Nuclear weapons are similar to this it seems... the plutonium pits are small, heavy, and essential to make the larger casing go nuclear. But even when installed there seems to have been both mechanical and electrical safety triggers guaranteeing that merely being dropped or blown up from the outside won't result in a nuclear chain reaction.

Thus we read about this accident:

The ICBM missile exploded - the fuel and fuel air mix blew the 200 ton blast door off and the warhead flew hundreds of feet but didn't go off (obviously).

Reading about this it occurs to me that putting ICBMs in sparsely populated counties or on ships at sea is as much about protecting them from would-be first strike attacks as about protecting the civilian population from accidents.

rcg said...

There must have been some radiation or something because the little boy in the Mars Bluff news paper photo has two heads.

George said...

The "Goldsboro incident" was of a different magnitude- literally. It involved not an A bomb but a much more powerful H bomb.

The Goldsboro incident was of a different magitute literally. It involved not an A bomb but a much more powerful H bomb.

Parker Jones, a senior engineer in the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M, "found that on the second bomb three of the four safety systems that were designed into it to keep it from detonating accidentally failed. The fourth, a simple, low-voltage switch, was all that stopped Armageddon from happening in North Carolina that day."

He "found that the switch that prevented detonation could have easily been shorted by an electrical jolt, leading to an accidental detonation. ' It would have been bad news - in spades,' he wrote in his report. When the bomb touched down, a firing signal was sent to the nuclear core of the device, and it was only this single switch that prevented catastrophe. "The MK 39 Mod 2 bomb did not possess adequate safety for the airborne alert role in the B-52," Jones concluded.