TNB Night Owl – Nuking South Carolina

Nuclear explosion, photo from National Nuclear Security Administration

It’s generally considered bad form to drop explosive ordinance on your own citizenry. That is the sort of activity which earns international condemnation and is typically viewed as an activity of repressive, dictatorial regimes.

Worse still is the dropping of nuclear bombs onto your own citizenry. The Gregg family of Mars Bluff, South Carolina was particularly aggrieved when the Air Force did exactly that on March 11, 1958.

To be fair, it was an accident. And the air force did apologize.

The weapon was dropped by a Boeing B-47 Stratojet, a long-range bomber which was carrying the bomb from the U.S. to a base in Africa by way of the U.K.. Shortly after takeoff from Georgia, the Captain noticed a warning light and sent the navigator to investigate.

The warning light was about the locking mechanism for the nuclear bomb. Needing to get a closer look at the mechanism, the navigator grabbed a nearby handle to pull himself up…

… but the handle happened to be the bomb release lever. The nuclear bomb dropped to the floor of the bomb bay, where the immense weight pushed the hinged openings loose. As the navigator watched, the bomb plummeted downward toward South Carolina. It landed in a large garden on the farm of Walter Gregg.

Luckily for Gregg, his wife, and the kids playing in the yard the fissionable material did not trigger (the military issued conflicting reports on whether the triggering mechanism was removed during transit for that particular bomb or simply failed). Unluckily for them, the TNT which was meant to trigger the larger blast did detonate… creating a crater 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep. The farmhouse was destroyed, power lines were knocked down, and all six people present were injured, although thankfully none had permanent physical damage resulting from the blast.

The Air Force filled in the hole, in addition to issuing the apology, but that was the extent of their response until Gregg sued. He won the lawsuit, but the award, $36,000, didn’t even cover the value of items destroyed in the blast.

It did give the family a heck of a story for a 1958 episode of I’ve Got a Secret, though. They stumped the entire panel.

Question of the night: Have you ever been on television or radio?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.