Concerning yesterday’s post on missing nuclear weapons Gerald Hanner wrote to say:
I once flew with one of the people involved in that lost nuke in South Carolina. It was being carried by a B-47, and they were on their way to a forward-deployed base in England to pull alert. For takeoff the weapon (no one in the business calls them “bombs”) is not pinned into the release mechanism so that it could be released if there was an aircraft emergency after takeoff. Since the “pit” was not installed in the weapon there was no chance of a nuclear detonation. In any case, after a safe takeoff the copilot went back to the bomb bay to place a safety pin in the release mechanism; the pin would not go into the slot it was designed for. After calling back to their departure base to discuss the problem, someone on the ground suggested jiggling the release mechanism a bit to properly align the parts. The copilot did. The next transmission from the aircraft was, “Shit! We dropped it!” The weapon released and went right through the closed bomb bay door; those were heavy dudes back then. You’ve read the rest of the story.
It was just after midnight on January 24, 1961. A B52G Stratofortress (one of the greatest airplanes ever to cast a shadow on this fine Earth, IMHO) suffered structural failure in its right wing near Faro, NC. The plane carried two MK39 hydrogen bombs.
The two weapons were jettisoned from the plane. One parachuted safely to the ground, receiving minimal damage. The other plummetted to Earth, partially breaking up on impact. Part of the weapon, however, was never found. The lost portion was the uranium-containing part, as well. Crews dug to a depth of 50 feet in the boggy field, but could never retrieve the warhead. To this day, the lost weapon continues to lie in this field.
Radioactivity tests have come up negative, and the Air Force has purchased an easement on the property to prevent anyone digging. If you’d like to read further on the case of the lost warhead, check out this link.