Since 1950, there have been 32 nuclear weapon accidents, known as “Broken Arrows.” A Broken Arrow is defined as an unexpected event involving nuclear weapons that result in the accidental launching, firing, detonating, theft, or loss of the weapon. To date, six nuclear weapons have been lost and never recovered. This article only focusses on the US broken arrows… Just keep in mind that other countries also had an atomic arsenal at this time…
United States military leaders have admitted to losing six nuclear weapons since 1950.
Unsealed documents show one is in the Mediterranean Sea, two are in the Pacific Ocean, two in the Atlantic Ocean and one is in Eastern North Carolina.
It was lost deep underground in a farmer’s field 62 years ago.
The military term for when something goes wrong with a nuclear weapon is a “broken arrow.”
In January of 1961, the United States was in a Cold War with the Soviet Union and John F. Kennedy had been president for three days.
Government documents show a B-52 bomber was flying over ENC, carrying two atomic bombs as part of Operation Chrome Dome, it was armed and ready in the event a nuclear strike was needed.
The B-52 sprung a fuel leak.
Onslow County native Adam Mattocks was one of the co-pilots on that plane.
“When the cockpit saw it, they couldn’t push up the wing, pulled back 1-2 and leveled the wings out, just wasn’t working,” Mattocks said.
In an interview from 2013, Mattocks said they tried dumping fuel but just after midnight on Jan. 24, 1961, the wing started to fall apart and they couldn’t save the plane.
It became a broken arrow situation and Mattocks said the captain, Stephen Tullock, made the call for the eight crew members to bail out.
Six made it out, two went down with the plane, one died in the jump.
Mattocks was the only one without an ejection seat so he had a decision to make.
“Either jump out the top and live and which no one had done at that time, or crawl down and follow the navigators out,” he said.
He decided to go up through a hole made by one of the other ejection seats.
“I couldn’t get out, couldn’t push myself out. I grayed out,” he said.
But, somehow he did make it out and avoided getting hit by the tail fin.
“When I went out, I didn’t feel nothing, no movement, I’m here suspended in space,” Mattocks said.
Here’s a video looking at the US Department of Defense’s “Narrative Summaries of Accidents Involving US Nuclear Weapons 1950-1980”. Yes, there’s quite a few, unfortunately.
He is the only known pilot to get out of a B-52 without an ejection seat and he had a bird’s eye view of the two atomic bombs thrown from the plane.
“That bomb had never been tested, dropped and tested anywhere in the U.S.,” Mattocks said.
One bomb had a parachute and floated to the ground.
Documents unsealed in 2011 show it was one safety switch away from exploding and causing the worst man-made disaster ever.
The other bomb parachute didn’t work and it hit the ground in Wayne County at an estimated 700 miles per hour and it hasn’t been seen since.
Jennifer Kuykendall’s phone at the Wayne County Museum rings more often these days.
“We’ve gotten calls from National Geographic, the History Channel, lots of calls about it,” she said.
The B-52 crashed in a rural area 12 miles North of Goldsboro, less than two miles West of the Greene County line.
“Lots of people come in and ask us about it, if we have pictures,” she said.
Even Hollywood is interested in this story.
“I hear there is even a movie in the works,” Kuykendall said.
The area where the bomb went missing has become the destination for the curious.
“They want to know exactly where it happened, where the bomb is, in a field near the town of Faro,” she said.
In 2012, the state put up a road sign in the one-stoplight town of Eureka, furthering the curiosity of what happened.
“I eat here, always someone stopping and taking a picture, looking at the sign, it’s talked about more than it used to be,” Earl Lancaster said. “It’s not marked, so I don’t think the government wants people going out and digging around, but people around here know where it is.”
The land is right off Big Daddy Lane, less than a half-mile away from Lancaster’s home.
It’s the same house he was sleeping in with his wife and baby son when the B-52 went down a little after midnight on Jan. 24, 1961.
“My wife was light sleeper, she said she heard the plane before the blast, woke me up, I stood up and looked out the window and it looked like turned the light on,” Lancaster said.
Here’s a video about a Alaska 1950 broken Arrow (1950)… Despite the largest search and rescue mission in US Air Force history, the aircraft, five crewmen and their nuclear weapon are presumed lost in the depths of the Pacific Ocean – until now…
He said he immediately jumped into action as a member of the Faro Volunteer Fire Department and was the first on the scene of the plane crash.
“They told us not to attack the plane if it was military,” he said.
He said he wasn’t there long when he heard an ominous voice.
“Man come from base, got on loud speaker, said go far away, plane was loaded, could take out a big circle, took everyone a mile away,” Lancaster said.
The bombs never detonated and Lancaster said he was allowed to go back home the next day, but military guards were set up next to his driveway and no one was allowed to get any closer to the missing bomb site.
“I got in my car and started riding,” he said.
A mile down the road, a bomb was hanging in a tree.
“I found out what it was, I knew what I was looking at,” Lancaster said.
He went to some of his farm land on Short Road and found big parts of the plane and one of the wings was lying next to the clotheslines at one of his houses.
“I farm property down there, brand new clothesline, that wing fell just as pretty on it, and it went straight out from the house,” he said.
Further down the road, on the other side of the county line is where three of the pilots landed.
“Parachuted and laid down, one died down there, hung in the tree,” he said.
Mattocks drifted South and landed safely near a farm house, where someone gave him a ride back to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
Lancaster was not allowed on the buried bomb site for weeks as he was told they found the tail of the missing bomb as well as the detonators, but not the warhead itself.
“I heard it on the news, they had a device, radar, it would keep moving,” Lancaster said.
The military finally gave up searching for the Plutonium as documents show too much ground water was making the recovery impossible, so they filled in the hole and left.
According to Lancaster, the sight is identifiable as a soft spot in the field where ruts are still easily made, about 100 yards from a grove of trees that most people think is the bomb site, but it is an old, overgrown cemetery.
Government officials told Lancaster and his neighbors the missing warhead was not a threat to their safety.
“Worried about the water, but health department checked in the water, every now and then,” Lancaster said. “They went several years, haven’t been out, haven’t complained, 90, so guess ok, yeah, we had several people with cancer, thought it might be related to it, I couldn’t say it was.”
Six decades have now passed and Lancaster said the memories are still fresh, especially when he hears a plane fly over head.
“For a long time, you hesitate a bit, pulled your attention when you heard an airplane, especially a loud one,” he said.
While the big question remains, will anyone ever find that missing warhead, Lancaster said about who would play him in the movie, “Nobody want to play an old, poor boy.”
But, everyone wants to know the story of the missing nuclear bomb. [More infos about the Thule, Greenland and Palomares, Spain Broken Arrows, Broken arrow historical records, WCTI12]
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