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Risky Business

“In 1961, at the height of the Cold War, a B-52 bomber carrying two Mark 39 thermonuclear bombs accidentally crashed in rural North Carolina. A low technology voltage switch was the only thing that prevented a 4-megaton nuclear bomb with 250 times the yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima from detonating on American soil. In addition to killing everyone within the vicinity of the blast, the winds would have carried radioactive fallout over Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. It is not inconceivable to imagine that, at the height of cold war, a weapon of that magnitude exploding randomly on the eastern seaboard would have triggered immediate accidental retaliation against the Soviets resulting in full scale Armageddon and the end of humankind as we know it. This is just one of many nuclear accidents during the cold war. Peace has a dark side.”

  • From Volatility and the Allegory of the Prisoner’s Dilemma by Chris Cole of Artemis Capital Management, October 2015.

Say what ? Here are more details:

The date was 24 January 1961. The plane was a United States B-52 Stratofortress carrying two nuclear bombs, which lost altitude over Goldsboro, in rural North Carolina. With the plane having sustained a fuel leak in its right wing, the crew were advised to maintain a holding pattern along the coast while they burnt off as much fuel as possible. On reaching their assigned position it transpired that the leak had worsened and they were now running out of fuel. The crew were advised to return immediately to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

They never made it. They lost control of the plane at 10,000 feet as they began their descent. Five of the crew ejected and landed safely. One crew member ejected but was killed on landing. Two crew members died in the crash.

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