Since the Oppenheimer first opened Pandora’s Box, the threat of complete human annihilation has loomed over our collective species. This sword of Damocles swings over our head with the silent menace of of the promise of stark oblivion. How many times have we crept unknowingly to the brink and stared into the void? More times than you would imagine possible.

In January of 1961, a B-52 bomber from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base with live nuclear ordinance suffered a catastrophic failure and broke up in mid-air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. The B52 bomber was flying a routine patrol mission. During an air refueling procedure, the pilots noticed fuel streaming from one of the wings. They attempted to enact emergency procedures by engaging fuel pumps, but the aircraft systems wouldn’t respond. They declared an emergency and began a descent to land. The crew heard a loud bang from below and the plane shuddered and began to roll hard. The crew bailed out as the massive bomber shuddered and began to come apart in the sky. The plane lost a wing cracked in the middle of the fuselage and disintegrated.  At 12:35 a.m. Jan. 24, 1961, the B-52 crashed 12 miles north of the air base in a tobacco field.

Two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs with a payload of 4 megatons each plummeted to the ground. These bombs contained enough nuclear material to trigger an atomic explosion 250 times more powerful than the bombs dropped in Japan. One of the bombs initiated it’s arming sequence, engaged it’s trigger mechanism and fell to earth deploying it’s parachute precisely as designed. Only the failure of one low-voltage switch prevented the bomb from detonating.

The call went out, the Military had a “Broken Arrow” code for an accidental event that involves nuclear weapons, warheads or components, but which does not create the risk of nuclear war.
An elite military bomb squad led by 1st Lt. Jack ReVelle, was scrambled to the site near Nahunta Swamp off Big Daddy’s Road, there among the wreckage they found the bomb precariously hanging from a denuded tree by its parachute. This bomb had mercifully been deactivated by a manual safety lever and was ready to be carted away almost unscathed. After the team checked for radioactive contamination, they deactivated the weapon, and the bomb was carefully removed.

The second bomb was buried deep in the soft mud of the swamp. The ordinance recovery crew toiled for days in the freezing cold to slowly and carefully uncover the sections of the buried bomb. They managed to recover the majority of the bomb, but the secondary mechanism is still down there undergoing radioactive decay.

As of September 2013, the US Department of Defense has officially recognized 32 “Broken Arrow” incidents. There are [many instances of KNOWN nuclear accidents.](

Each of these threaten our very existence, whether we are in the blast zone or the accident could be misconstrued as an attack and unleash the power of mutually assured destruction. The powers that be warn of the dire consequences of some terrorist organization acquiring a nuclear weapon or some supposed rogue state deploying one in anger. It’s clear that the most dangerous circumstances are the dangers inherent in simply possessing such weapons. Although the cold war thawed with glastnos, the ominous threat of total global annihilation remains real. As long as fissile weapons are in the inventories of man, we are but a moment away from oblivion whether they are used in anger or by accident.

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