The Cold War has been over for some time now, but plenty of historical remnants from that time can still be found all across America. One of the crazier examples has got to be the crater at Mars Bluff, South Carolina. You see, this is the place the US Air Force accidentally dropped a nuclear bomb on American soil in 1958.
March 11, 1958 was just another day for Walter Gregg and his family when, suddenly, a giant explosion rocked the whole property and destroyed large sections of their home.
What Walter and his family didn’t know was that a B-47 Stratojet was flying just overhead that morning, on its way to the UK for training exercises. At the time, all bombers were required to carry a nuclear payload in case of a nuclear war breaking out while they were up in the air (paranoia was at an all-time high). This particular plane was carrying a Mark 6 atomic bomb.
Thankfully, this Mark 6 didn’t have the nuclear rod inserted, or else the scene would have looked a lot more like the picture below.
While passing over Gregg’s property, a warning light regarding the bomb’s docking system began to flash. Apparently, it was an issue with the locking pin. The plane’s navigator, Captain Bruce Kulka went to investigate, but accidentally pressed the bomb's emergency release while attempting to fix the locking pin.
The 8,500 pound bomb’s weight quickly caused the bay doors to open, and it began its freefall toward the woods of Mars Bluff below. Although it had no nuclear rods, the bomb’s explosve charges did go off on impact, creating a crater measuring roughly 75 feet in diameter and 30 feet deep.
Thankfully, no one died in the explosion, though it did do some pretty extensive damage to surrounding buildings. Still, just think how much worse it could have been if the bomb’s nuclear capacity had been active.
The Greggs were given $54,000 to repair the damages and stay quiet about the whole incident. This was also right around the time a new rule was introduced: all planes had to make sure to check that their payloads are properly locked before take-off.
Some of the bomb fragments were recovered and displayed at a local museum.
Now that’s what I call a major “oops” moment. Had it been fully armed, this might easily have started the next World War, or at least had a major impact on the outcome of the Cold War. All because of a simple mistake. Thankfully, we’re all still here to laugh about it.
Credit: Atlas Obscura