Broken Arrow Incident in Wayne County

Gov. Luther Hodges poses with state Civil Defense director Edward F. Griffin in fallout shelter underneath the Executive Mansion. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Gov. Luther Hodges poses with state Civil Defense director Edward
F. Griffin in fallout shelter underneath the Executive Mansion. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On January 24, 1961, a B-52G Stratofortress Bomber carrying two nuclear weapons crashed in rural Wayne County, 10 miles northeast of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. At the height of the Cold War, U.S. policy was to keep armed nuclear aircraft in the air at all times in the event of a conflict.

Internal structural damage had begun inside the right wing of the doomed plane during refueling. During preparation for landing at Seymour Johnson, a major structural failure of the right wing occurred and the aircraft exploded at 8,000 feet. Three members of the eight-man crew were killed.

A 1959 guide to the construction of fallout shelters, now held by the N.C. Museum of History

A 1959 guide to the construction of
fallout shelters, now held by the N.C. Museum of History

As a result of the breakup of the plane, two nuclear weapons were released. Seven of the eight arming, fusing and firing switches and devices in one bomb automatically activated. Only a crew-controlled switch prevented a nuclear detonation. Since its parachute deployed, one bomb had only minor damage when it fell about a mile from the crash site. The second bomb fell free, without its parachute deploying, and broke apart on impact.

Historians believe that the Goldsboro incident was one of the closest near-disasters related to the Cold War because safety interlocks on the weapons failed, having gone through all of the steps to detonate, save one.

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