A Military Mishap That Might Have Been Much Worse

A Mark 6 nuclear bomb – the same kind that was accidentally dropped from an Air Force bomber flying over South Carolina, March 11, 1958.

In the late afternoon of March 11, 1958, a B-47 bomber took off from an Air Force base near Savannah, Georgia, and was bound across the Atlantic Ocean on a Cold War era military exercise. On board were several nuclear weapons. As the plane flew over South Carolina, the flight’s navigator went to the bomb bay to check on a fault light that had warned the crew that the cargo might not be properly secured. In performing his check, he lost his footing and reached out to grabe something to steady himself. The thing he grabbed happened to be the emergency release lever. Down fell the 4-ton weapon, smashing through the bomb bay doors as though they were made of tin, and began a horrifying 15,000 foot decent.

Directly below was the house of railroad conductor Walter Gregg. Gregg was home at the time, doing some work in one of the outbuildings behind his home. His wife was in the house sewing, and their two daughters and a cousin of theirs were playing in the adjoining woods, about two hundred yards or so from a playhouse that Gregg had constructed for them.

Had the bomb’s nuclear components actually been armed that day (which, thankfully, they were not), the entire Gregg family – and pretty much anyone and anything else within a mile radius or so – would have been vaporized, along with buildings destroyed, trees leveled, people killed or badly injured for miles around, and the entire region polluted by deadly radioactive fallout. Another saving grace was the fact that the children were neither in nor very near the playhouse, which happened to be ground zero for the bomb when it struck, detonating the 6,000 pounds of conventional explosives which it carried.

The result was a crater 70 feet wide and 35 feet deep where the playhouse had been, the Gregg home effectively destroyed, and some minor injuries to the family all around – but amazingly no one killed or seriously hurt.

The Gregg’s eventually received a settlement of $36,000–$54,000 for the mishap (sources vary), reportedly not even enough to rebuild their home or replace their possessions. The crater is still visible, though located on private property.