On January 24, 1961, something not at all funny happened in the skies over Goldsboro, N.C. The wing of a B-52G bomber began to leak fuel and exploded, destroying the plane and releasing its payload of two thermonuclear bombs. (One usually does the trick, but the plane carried two on board "just in case.") The first drifted to earth beneath a parachute. Its twin, however, crash-landed in a swamp. Thankfully, neither exploded - which is lucky, considering the bombs had gone through three of the four steps toward activation.
Of course, there were complications. The bomb that crashed proved to difficult to recover. Workers could only drag part of it out of the mud, leaving a chuck containing nuclear material buried 150 feet down. It's still there today, and so is the government. U.S. officials bought the patch of swamp and continue to regularly check the radiation levels. As of now, it doesn't look like locals will be catching three-eyed fish anytime soon.
As it turns out, though, the Tarheels were just keeping up with their neighbors to the south. In February 1958, two Air Force bombers collided in the air over Savannah, Ga., forcing one of the planes (carrying a nuclear-capable bomb) to crash into the Atlantic. Only a month later, a B-47 bomber accidentally dropped an unarmed nuclear bomb near Mars Bluff, S.C. Frighteningly, such "broken arrow" events were all too common in that era. Five of them occurred in 1958.
[From July-Aug 2005 issue of mental_floss magazine, featured in Neatorama with permission] - for more mind-boggling trivia and fun facts, visit mental_floss website and blog.
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