Category: Accidents

The Black Brant Scare Near Miss

In January of 1995 American and Norwegian scientists launched a rocket carrying scientific equipment off of the northwestern coast of Norway. The purpose of the launch was to study the aurora borealis.

The trajectory of the rocket traveled through air space that may have been used in the case of an American attack on Russia. The launch was picked up by a Russian early warning radar station and was misinterpreted as a possible surprise attack by American submarines.

This misinterpretation caused a full alert to be sent up the Russian military chain of command who in turn alerted Russian President Boris Yeltsin. They brought Yeltsin the nuclear briefcase he would use to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike. Russian submarines were put on alert and ordered to prepare for a possible launch of their missiles.

Before Yeltsin ordered his missiles to launch the radar stations concluded the research rocket was heading away from Russia and the crisis was over.

The scientists had informed Russia ahead of time that they would be launching a research rocket but the message was never passed on to the Russian radar stations, thus leaving them in the dark about the true nature of the rocket they were observing.

We might recall that President Yeltsin had more than a little bit of a problem with alcohol. Just a few months before this incident when Yeltsin was in Washington for his first meeting with President Clinton, Yeltsin wandered drunk out on to Pennsylvania Avenue wearing only his underwear trying to hail down a taxi so he could go get some pizza.

Let us be forever grateful that it wasn’t that Yeltsin whom the Russians generals brought the nuclear briefcase to.

NORAD Detects An Incoming Soviet First Strike

In November of 1979 someone mistakenly inserted a training tape in to the NORAD early warning system, an error which convinced operators a nuclear first strike by the Soviet Union was underway.

NORAD called President Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and informed him that 250 Soviet missiles were incoming, and that President Carter had 5-10 minutes to decide whether to launch our missiles before they were destroyed in their silos.

Luckily, before that decision was made satellite and radar systems were able to confirm that the alert was a false alarm.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of it, as there were more false alarms at NORAD in the following months.

The first half of the following video provides a historical context for the near miss calamity described above. The second half of the video describes the actual event.

The First Lost Nuke

In February 1950 a Convair B-36B bomber jettisoned the nuclear weapon it was carrying when the plane’s engines caught on fire. This was the first lost nuke incident in history.

The bomber was engaged in a practice run at the time which was to include a simulated attack upon San Francisco.

The plane was abandoned in flight by the crew and the bomb was ejected by the crew and detonated in the air, resulting in a large conventional explosion. Five of the 17 crew members died in the accident. The plane crashed in Northern British Columbia.

Here’s a 45 minute video which explains the incident in detail.

Buzz One Four B-52 Crash

In 1964 a B-52 carrying two nuclear weapons broke apart in a storm and crashed about 100 miles from Washington D.C.

An excellent film called Buzz One Four produced by the grandson of the B-52 pilot documents this event in detail. You can watch the entire film on Amazon Prime.

I’m watching the film now, it’s very well done. Because the film was made by the grandson of the pilot, it does a great job of humanizing the story by providing an introduction to the people involved.

Here’s a YouTube trailer for the film Buzz One Four.

The B-52 was part of the Operation Chrome Dome procedure which kept nuclear armed B-52s in the air at all times, as a hedge against a possible first strike on their bases. Chrome Dome pilots routinely flew long circular missions which took them to the edge of Soviet airspace.

However, in this case the crew was flying a routine mission over the United States, simply relocating a plane from Massachusetts to it’s home base in Georgia.

As explained in the film, the Air Force required crews of these 20 hour long missions to take amphetamines to keep them alert, drugs with known side effects such as agitation, anxiety, paranoia etc.

Three crew members died in the crash, and two survived. There was no nuclear explosion or release of radiation.

The Lost Nuclear Weapon Near Savannah Georgia

In February of 1958 an F-86 fighter plane flying near Savannah Georgia collided with a B-47 bomber carrying a nuclear bomb.

The crew of the bomber received permission to release the bomb to prevent an explosion during an emergency landing. The bomb was dropped in to the ocean just off of Savannah Georgia, where it remains to this day.

There seems to be some confusion about whether the bomb was capable of a nuclear detonation. No unusual amounts of radiation have been detected in the area.

Video From HistoryPod

Video From Deep South Divers

The Day We Dropped Nukes On North Carolina

On January 23, 1961 a B-52 bomber carrying two nuclear weapons broke up in flight. As the plane hurtled towards the ground both nuclear weapons were accidentally released on to farmland near Goldsboro North Carolina. Three crew members on the bomber were killed in the incident.

The B-52 had developed a fuel leak which caused the bomber to become unstable, causing the plane to spin out of control. As the bomber careened towards the ground, centrifugal forces acting on the aircraft pulled on the lever a crew member would normally use to release a nuclear bomb from the plane.

One of the bombs completed all but one of the steps required for a detonation. A single switch prevented the weapon from exploding.

The weapon that almost exploded was 250 times stronger than the Hiroshima bomb, and would have had extreme impact upon Eastern North Carolina. Radioactive fallout from such a detonation could have stretched from North Carolina to New York.


Video From CBS News


Video From National Geographic


Video From History Uncovered


Video From News Direct

The Damascus Arkansas Titan Missile Explosion

In September 1980 a simple mistake by a crewman working in a missile silo at Damascus Arkansas caused a liquid fuel explosion which ejected the ICBM and it’s attached 9 megaton nuclear bomb from the silo.

The crewman dropped a ratchet socket which fell 80 feet down the silo before bouncing in to the missile and puncturing it’s fuel tank. When crews failed to contain the leak, an explosion in the silo lifted the 740 ton silo door and ejected the 2nd stage of the missile and it’s warhead out of the silo.

The 2nd stage of the missile exploded upon leaving the silo, totally destroying the launch complex. The warhead landed near the launch complex entry gate. Luckily, it’s safety features worked and there was no explosion or release of radioactivity.

That was really good news, because according to the video below, that warhead had more destructive power than all the bombs dropped by all parties in WWII, including the two nuclear bombs dropped by the U.S. at the end of the war.

As explained in the video, if a bomb of this size was detonated over Washington D.C. enough radiation would be released to kill everyone in Washington, everyone in Baltimore, everyone in Philadelphia, half the population of New York City, with further injuries and deaths as far north as Boston.

That’s the scale of destruction which was avoided when the warhead in this incident didn’t explode.


A hair raising 90 minute documentary film about this event called “Command And Control” is available from the following sources. I just watched this again, it’s a compelling story, check it out.

Here’s a quick trailer of the film from YouTube.

You can view the full film on Netflix.

The full film can be rented on YouTube for $4.

The film is based on a book by Eric Schlosser regarding this event and related nuclear weapon safety issues. The book is available from Amazon.