A recently declassified document tells us that two nuclear weapons, "each packing 260 times the explosive power of the weapon that decimated Hiroshima", fell to ground in Goldsboro, N.C. after a plane accident.
Each had four fail-safe circuits. In one they all worked. In the second, three of the four failed.
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.
Had the warhead exploded, radioactive fallout could have spread over the Eastern Seaboard, hitting Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.
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.
The accident happened just three days after President John F Kennedy was inaugurated in January 1961.
I keep imagining the designers of the Mark 39 hydrogen bomb, discussing how many fail safe mechanisms were necessary. I'd be willing to bet some bureaucrat or engineer, worried about cost over-runs, argued that four was excessive.
Were you far enough away in '61 to avoid the blast and radiation? I lived in the fallout range.
Watch Oliver Stone's Untold History on Showtime; we came much closer to nuclear war than anyone realized during the Cuban crisis.