Though critically damaged, the right wing remained
intact as the giant bomber started its approach to
the base. The plane was at 10,000 feet when flight
commander Tulloch engaged the landing flaps.
The B–52G’s landing flaps have only two
positions — full up and full down. When the flaps
moved to full down the damaged wing ruptured
and sheared off, and the pilots lost all control of the
aircraft. Maj. Tulloch immediately ordered the crew
Standard equipment for the bomber includes six
seats equipped with escape hatches and ejection
systems. The plane is designed to enable four crew
to eject from the upward-firing top hatches and two
from the belly hatches below, clearing them from the
plane before their parachutes automatically opened.
Six of the eight personnel aboard Keep 19 sat in
ejection seats. The other two would have to secure a
parachute, make their way to any open hatch, and
jump free. Upon Maj. Tulloch’s order, all six crew-members
in ejection seats bailed out at 9,000 feet.
A THE FIRST BOMB
As the plane began to disintegrate, the two
Mark 39 nuclear bombs separated from the aircraft.
In the case of an accident, and to avoid a nuclear
disaster, both bombs had a series of arming mech-anisms.
One of those mechanisms was a parachute
that activated when the bomb was released from
the plane. The parachute was required to slow the
bomb’s descent so the aircraft could safely fly out of
the blast zone.
The first bomb fell free with no parachute and
dove at some 700 mph into the ground at C.T. Davis
farm near Nahunta Swamp in rural Wayne County.
It partially broke apart on impact and torpedoed
through the wet earth to a depth of some 50 feet,
leaving a cavernous crater. Even with the intense
shock at impact, none of the conventional explosives
designed to sequentially trigger the nuclear explo-sion
An Air Force explosive ordnance disposal team
would remove components from the crater, and
government contractors would attempt to excavate
the hydrogen core. But the crater was in a swamp
with a high water table, and it flooded so quickly
that excavation work had to cease. Eventually the
decision was made to fill the crater with sand.
The Air Force would purchase an easement with
restrictions on any activity other than farming.
Components were salvaged, but the bomb itself
remains entombed in Nahunta Swamp along with
its nuclear core.
Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians recover components
of one of the Mark 39 bombs. Due to groundwater flooding, it was never
fully recovered. Today, a pond and natural growth have erased any visible
evidence of what happened at the site in 1961.
ROBERT REHDER U.S. AIR FORCE U.S. AIR FORCE
26 february 2022