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Near Nuclear Catastrophy in 1961, NYC

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posted on Dec, 18 2007 @ 05:28 PM
This information comes to me from a retired USA Air Force officer, who was dating my elderly and widowed aunt last year. Based upon my own investigation, the story seems plausible.


Hart Island is a small and somewhat desolate island off the coast of the Bronx Borough of New York City, in Long Island Sound. The island is off limits to the public. You will be arrested if you make any attempt to approach the island.

In the 1950s and 1960s, this island was home to a highly secret base, containing at least 24 Nike Ajax missiles. This comprised part of the USA anti-ballistic missile system, to protect New York City, intended as a last-line of defense against a nuclear air attack by the USSR or other foreign nuclear power.

In the 1960’s, there was an attempt to replace the missile with a later generation weapon system known as the Nike Hercules missile. Unlike the Nike Ajax, this new system used nuclear tipped warheads so as to more reliably kill incoming bombers and missiles.

In 1961, a single nuclear tipped Nike Hercules missile was moved onto Hart Island as an initial, and fully operational deployment. The nuclear warhead was stored separately from the missile, but was occasionally installed on it during drills and exercises, which happened every few months.

Whenever the nuclear warhead was added to the missile (a process which took a full day) there were several safeguards. To prevent accidental triggering of the warhead, a special mechanical interlock – a “safing key” – had to be physically from the warhead, and insert into the fire control panel. The fire control panel could not be disconnected from the radar system, and put in “drill mode”, until this special key had been inserted into its proper “safe” location.

According to my source, the second or third time they conducted an operational drill, they had to stop the simulated firing of the missile due to a technical problem. They decided to scratch the test. When they went to remove the warhead, a supervisor found this safing key was still inserted!

The key that had been inserted into the fire control panel was a SPARE key. Apparently, the technicians had not realized that the key inserted into the fire control panel was suppose to be the same key that existed on the warhead. The warhead had not been adequately disabled.

Here is the scariest part. The technical glitch, which had stopped the exercise, was that an accelerometer had blown out, so that the warhead thought the missile had actually been launched. This was the second (and only) safety that prevented nuclear detonation.

Given the failure of the accelerometer, and failure to remove the safing key from the warhead, if the exercise had not been stopped, THE NIKE NUCLEAR WARHEAD WOULD HAVE DETONATED.

Note: This small, desolate, unapproachable Hart Island is only about five miles from the center of Manhattan Island, New York City.


To anyone with inside info. Do you think this story could be true?

posted on Dec, 19 2007 @ 06:00 AM
Hi Buck Division,

Thanks for the interesting post, but I don't think hercules was deployed to the Hart island site due to it's very close proximity to NYC.

Probably due to its close proximity to the center of the New York Defense Area, Nike site NY-15 did not receive the new Nike Hercules missile system. It continued to operate its Nike Ajax missiles until it was finally inactivated during 1961.

extract taken from Hart Island Base History

It seems either your source may have been embelishing somewhat.



posted on Dec, 19 2007 @ 06:56 AM
Considering there were no less than 19 Nike sites defending New York, there is a fair chance this story is bogus. Maybe it has its base in that the control facilities for the launchers on Hart Island were located on a different island altogether, increasing the chance of a release incident.

But digging around, there are a few small references here and there that the Hart Island base did undergo the Hercules conversion:
NF-74/75 dual site on Hart Island, New York, is now known as the Hart Island Nike Base. It was redesignated NF-41 after conversion to Hercules.

Also, the 11th row down here seems to indicate that NF-74/75 was converted to the Hercules system.

But another separate site here lists the Hart Island base as NY-15, and I can't help but notice there is a bit of conversion going around with Grand Island Nike base as well, which was also redesignated when its missiles were upgraded.

posted on Dec, 19 2007 @ 11:29 AM

The NIKE site at Hart island was NY-15 see here

Also on that site you can see 0 for the count of hercules missiles.

The FAS Ajax site says In June 1958, a process of conversion to the longer range Nike Hercules missile began. Subsequently, the Nike Ajax batteries were either modified to accept the new missile or deactivated.

The Hart island site was deactivated in 1961, this means that if the conversion to Hercules was done at Hart Island then it must have been implemented, ran and decommisioned between June 1958 and June 1961, strange when most other Hercules sites remained operational until 1974 at the earliest. If the Hart island site was converted then why did it get inactivated in 1961? Basically it was inactivated because the Hercules system made the AJAX rocket obsolete and the Hart Island site was too close to the NY defence area, the longer range hercules rockets could be used from sites further away.

As for the Wikipedia link, good old Wikipedia providing inaccurate information again! The New York sites were all designated NY - x Not NF - x as wickipedia states. NF designations covered the Buffalo/Niagra area. I would take anything read there with a bucket of salt!
NF-74 was the grand island site!

Feel free to take the mick out of your fibbing friend! :-)



posted on Dec, 19 2007 @ 11:35 AM
Thanks for the replies. Amazing knowledge base, as usual!

I absolutely believe that the USA MIGHT deploy one or two nuclear tipped Hercules missiles at some location like Hart island, even though it was close to a huge urban center. This is during the hottest times of the cold war -- prior to the ABM treaty. Anything was possible during that time. And I am sure the military would never admit to that.

I also think that the senario of accidentally forgetting (or not understanding) a particular safety measure is possible. The particular "safing key" senario looks like things I have encountered in some conventional weapons during the 1980's (but a bit sloppier than what I would expect.)

What looks bogus to me is the idea that only two safeguards (accelerometer and safing key) would be used to prevent accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon. I have trouble believing that, even in 1961. (It might be possible, but seems unlikely.)


The guy who shared this info may or may not have embellished. One way to determine this would be to go to Hart Island and scope things out -- the Nike Hercules was a big missile, and there might be some physical infrastructure, or other evidence, left on the island.

But of course, you can't get to Hart Island. It is off limits to ordinary folk like us. Which makes the story difficult to prove or disprove.

I will continue to research this, and get back at a later date. Thanks for the great input!

posted on Dec, 20 2007 @ 05:50 AM
Hi Buck,

Yeah you are correct in that nuclear tipped hercules missiles were deployed very close to large urban areas, but there was never any cover up of this, there was just no point in upgrading the Hart Island site when other sites in the NY system were capable of doing the same job, less sites same cover!

The Hercules version was scaled up by four compared to the Ajax missile, but it isn't just an upgrade to the missile, the radar and most of the other systems were also changed, a pretty big job! Security was also much higher, with double fencing around the site and secure areas needed for atomic weapon storage, there is no evidence of this on any of the large amounts of photographs available on the net. Tours of the island have been taken by researchers and again no evidence is mentioned of a Hercules conversion. Nuclear Hercules sites would have a security detatchment of at least 30 people!

As for the safety systems, having a duplicate key completely and absolutely defeats the object of having the 'key' in the first place! There was no 'spare' key

NY-15 was an Ajax site

NY15 was never converted to Hercules

NY-15 was decommisioned in 1961

Anyone involved in the handling of a nuclear weapon was, and is highly trained. Many actions involving moving, arming, replacing and maintaining a warhead are overseen by the Technical Proficiency Inspection team. One false move and your off! All handling was compliant with the 'two man rule' to stop any one man cocking up!

Safety systems are designed to failSAFE, in other words if the unit fails the trigger cannot be operated! If the accelerometer failed, the weapon would not detonate.
On the NIKE hercules the W-31 warhead also used a barometric probe. This was another safety system designed to ensure the weapon detonated at the correct altitude. If the warhead attemped to detonate at an incorrect altitude there would only be a 'one point' detonation, meaning no implosion, meaning no nuclear explosion!

Buck, I wouldn't bother spending any more time researching didn't happen, you'll be wasting your time! I'm not saying that there has never been any 'close-calls' but your friend simply isn't telling the truth, sorry.



posted on Dec, 20 2007 @ 09:05 AM
A perfect example of why ATS is an important site...

You have me convinced: this story is bogus.

I can guess the motives of my source here -- basically an "ego" thing.

On reflection, I think there are a lot of distortions of facts when it comes to nuclear weapons. There are lot of urban legends. We are talking about the most powerful and potentially deadly artifacts of humanity -- people's imaginations go into high gear.

Anything that moves us away from the truth (like people spreading false rumors) is not good for society. Your info definitely resonates with me, and hopefully the historical record has been clarified.

EDIT: Let me say one more thing -- the part of the story that triggered my original post was regarding Hart Island. That was the particular bit that was initially hard to believe. When I did some simple research and found this to be TRUE, the rest of the story seemed very plausible.

By 2007, I think most of us have fallen out of touch with what was going on in the 1950s and 1960s -- the extraorinary fear and the defensive measures. The historical account, backed up by the links in this thread, is really fascinating. It doesn't require any embellishments

I personally have learned a ton about Nike missiles and Hart Island from this thread. Thanks!

[edit on 20-12-2007 by Buck Division]

posted on Jun, 11 2008 @ 03:21 PM
At the end of this month I'm going to be seeing this USAF contact for the first time in more than a year. (He and my aunt are living together -- off and on again -- both over 70 years old -- go figure.)

I talked to him briefly over the phone just now. After that discussion, I am not 100% convinced that this story is bogus after all. (I mentioned that I had some friends who were looking for more info on this -- he seemed happy to discuss this further -- guy seems very sharp!)

So, I should be able to interview him for more details and report back.

Please note, I'm not interested in embarrassing this guy at all, or putting him on the spot. I am just looking for some truth about Hart Island, nuclear weapons, and close calls. This may be one of my last opportunities to get some facts on this.

Does have a simple test question, or something that might be appropriate to ask him?

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