broken arrow: n. accident, mishap, or other unexpected event involving one or more nuclear weapons

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.

Obviously, neither bomb yielded its awful potential, or the world would today be mourning an infamous catastrophe. The two model MARK 39 devices came down when the B-52 bomber in which they were riding suffered structural failure and disintegrated in mid-air 12 miles north of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, NC. The plane exploded as it fell. Five crewmen parachuted to earth safely. Three died -- two who went down with the doomed bomber, and one who was found two miles from the crash site hanging by his parachute in a tree, his neck broken.MK 39 Nuclear Bomb The H-bombs jettisoned as the plane descended, one bomb parachuting to earth intact, the other striking a farmer's field at high speed -- "probably mach 1" (about 760 miles per hour) speculates one retired Air Force Colonel.

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.

Area residents say the story is well-known, "no big secret." Indeed, various media sources, including Mother Jones, Greenpeace Books, newspapers, and local as well as national television outlets have run features on the crash and its aftermath. Still, there remain many people, even many North Carolinians, who know little or nothing about this fascinating incident.

The authors could find no centralized information source about the crash which both states the undisputed facts of the case and exposes at least some of the mysteries and inconsistencies that remain. This site is dedicated to providing that resource.

Content will be updated as new information comes to light. Requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act are pending. The authors welcome feedback.

On to the Full Story Forward

Contact us at:
Last Updated: 4 December 2000