With the recent success of Barbenheimer it’s only fair we talk about some history here in North Carolina.
For those that are unaware of what Barbenheimer is, it’s the internet sensation of the new Barbie film and the World War II film Oppenheimer, which is based around the creation of the atomic bomb. No need to worry because this article contains no spoilers for either film. The only spoiler here is North Carolina was very close to being wiped off the map and creating an inhabitable zone.
The time was 1961, the place was near Goldsboro, North Carolina. A military B52 Bomber carrying two 2.4 megaton nuclear bombs crashed in a field killing all eight of the crew on board. As the plane crashed one of the bombs parachuted into the mud while the other slammed into the muddy swampy ground going at a speed estimated to be hundreds of miles per hour. Given the swampy condition of the ground, the bomb sank to nearly 200 feet underground. Luckily the bombs did not detonate and the military was able to retrieve the plutonium from those bombs.
During this time it was not uncommon for aircraft to fly around the country armed and activated given this was post-World War II and at the height of the Cold War. Given North Carolina’s strong military presence, nuclear bombs were flown back and forth to our state for many years. The bombs on the aircraft were more powerful than the ones dropped in Japan during World War II so imagine the damage they could’ve done if they were detonated.
“It could have easily killed my parents,” said U.S. Air Force retired Colonel Carlton Keen, who now teaches ROTC at Hunt High School in Wilson. He grew up in Wayne County, only a few miles away from the epicenter of the Nuclear Mishap.
Thousands could have died in the blast and following radioactive cloud, especially depending on which direction the winds blew.
“Long-term cancer rates would be much higher throughout the area,” said Keen.
Today’s site of the Nuclear Mishap is marked by a patch of trees in the middle of a field. To get a better glimpse of the site try Google Earth you can see the discoloration of the field from where the bombs landed. Many people drive by the site daily not knowing how close we were to being a disaster area.
There is also a sign in the town of Eureka which is about three miles from the Nuclear Mishap site. Today, many experts don’t know why neither bomb exploded with some just saying God was looking over us that night, but the harsh reality of what could’ve happened is still fresh to Keen.
“If it hit in Raleigh, it would have taken Raleigh, Chapel Hill and the surrounding cities,” said Keen. “These nuclear bombs were far more powerful than the ones dropped in Japan.”
You can read more on the Nuclear Mishap here.