The United States narrowly averted a nuclear disaster in 1961 after two atomic bombs fell from a B-52 bomber and came frighteningly close to detonating in North Carolina, newly-released documents reveal.
On January 24, 1961, two hydrogen bombs fell from a B-52 as it broke apart in the sky and hit the ground near the city of Goldsboro.
The Air Force bomber suffered a "failure of the right wing" and broke in half while flying over North Carolina, said documents revealed by the National Security Archive this week.
As the bombs were plunging toward the ground the parachute for one failed to deploy.
The weapon whose parachute opened landed intact but the second bomb landed in a “free fall” with the impact of the crash putting it in the “armed” setting.
Fortunately, a part of the bomb needed to initiate an explosion was damaged as it hit the ground.
If the 4-megaton bomb had been detonated, a disaster worse than the devastation wrought in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 could have befallen the United States.
Each bomb was capable of generating explosions 260 times more powerful than the one that devastated Hiroshima.
The bombs the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were 0.01 and 0.02 megatons respectively.
Eight crew members were aboard the B-52 and five survived the crash.