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On Tuesday, 24 January 1961, at about 12:30 a.m., two hydrogen bombs fell to earth near the tiny farming village of Faro, NC.
Safety mechanisms designed to prevent unintended or unauthorized detonation served their function, and a historic nuclear catastrophe was averted. But published sources disagree on how close the people of Wayne County came to suffering fiery annihilation. There is also disagreement in print on the potential yield of the weapons. An on-going environmental concern centers on the portion or portions of one bomb still buried, sunk in a boggy farm field. Quicksand-like conditions made deep excavation impossible where the free-falling bomb came down, and that bomb was never recovered in full. The state of North Carolina still conducts periodic radiation testing on local ground water.
During a B-52 airborne alert mission structural failure of the right wing resulted in two weapons separating from the aircraft during aircraft breakup at 2,000 - 10,000 feet altitude. One bomb parachute deployed and the weapon received little impact damage. The other bomb fell free and broke apart upon impact. No explosion occurred. Five of the eight crew members survived. A portion of one weapon, containing uranium, could not be recovered despite excavation in the waterlogged farmland to a depth of 50 feet. The Air Force subsequently purchased an easement requiring permission for anyone to dig there. There is no detectable radiation and no hazard in the area.
Military reports at the time of the accident described the two thermonuclear devices as "unarmed." However, that word is inherently inexact, no matter how it is used. The final "arming" of any military nuclear device requires the completion of numerous steps, executed in the proper sequence and timed correctly. It is thus arguable that any nuclear device could be called technically "unarmed" right up to the moment of its detonation. Even the account of the accident provided by Hansen sends mixed signals, referring to "unarmed" weapons and "partially armed" weapons, and indicating that at least some of the steps necessary for arming were in fact completed in each of the two bombs. Thus, while the devices may technically have been "unarmed" in that they never detonated, they nonetheless could more accurately have been described throughout the event as "partially armed." "Unarmed" is a frequently used adjective in military press releases describing broken-arrow incidents. A table beginning on page 65 of SIPRI's 1977 Yearbook presents summary information on 32 such incidents. The arming state of the weapon(s) involved is mentioned in nine of these accounts -- and always the weapons are characterized as "unarmed" or otherwise incapable of nuclear detonation. No weapon is ever described as "armed."
The United States military have been missing the bomb for 48 years. They believe it part of it may lie beneath a field in Goldsboro.