One of the bombs fell with its parachute deployed. (U.S. AIR FORCE)

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Two Nuclear Bombs Were Once Accidentally Dropped on North Carolina

Luckily, neither detonated.

In 1961, Cold War tensions were running so high that the military had planes armed with nuclear weapons in the air constantly, so that they could be ready to respond to a nuclear attack at any moment. But one time, an American B-52 bomber dropped two nuclear bombs on North Carolina.

In January, a jet carrying two 12-foot long Mark 39 hydrogen bombs met up with a refueling plane, whose pilot noticed that fuel was leaking from the plane’s right wing, explains Atlas Obscura. Before anything could be done, the wing broke off and then part of the tail. The plane crash-landed, killing three of its crew. Five men made it out safely. As the plane fell, however, the bomb bays opened and the two bombs it was carrying fell to the ground. One bomb deployed its parachute, which meant that it was acting as if it had been deployed deliberately. It started flying through a seven-step sequence that would end in detonation. The final step of that sequence is a simple safety switch. When the military crew found the bomb, it was nose-up in the dirt, with its parachute caught in a tree. That last switch was still turned to SAFE.

The second bomb had gone missing in a tobacco field. It took a week for a crew to dig out the bomb, which had not exploded. It did break on impact, and the clean-up crew had to search for its part. When they found that key switch, it had been turned to ARM. To this day, Atlas Obscura writes, it is unclear why the bomb did not go off. The secondary core, made of uranium, was never found. The site where the bomb fell is safe enough to farm, but no one can dig or erect a building on the site where the bomb landed.

Read the full story at Atlas Obscura