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Air Force H-bomb disaster averted in 1961, thanks to single switch

| Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A newly declassified document confirms that the Air Force “inadvertently dropped” hydrogen bombs over North Carolina in 1961 and that a single switch prevented a nuclear disaster, Britain's the Guardian reported on Saturday.

Two bombs were on board a B-52 from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro on a patrol of the East Coast at the height of the Cold War. When the plane went into an uncontrolled spin, both bombs fell, and one began the detonation process.

If it had exploded, the blast would have been 260 times more powerful than the bomb that fell on Hiroshima with fallout reaching as far north as Pittsburgh or New York City.

“It would have been bad news — in spades,” Parker F. Jones, a government scientist at Sandia laboratories, wrote in the 1969 document, released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The unarmed bomb dropped in a meadow, but the second “assumed it was being deliberately released over an enemy target and went through all its arming mechanisms save one, and very nearly detonated over North Carolina,” journalist Eric Schlosser, who requested the document, told the BBC.

Out of four safety mechanisms, three malfunctioned. ”One simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe!” Jones wrote.

The bomb fell into a tree in a field near Faro.

Schlosser said he discovered that at least 700 “significant” accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded between 1950 and 1968.

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