In September 1980 a simple mistake by a crewman working in a missile silo at Damascus Arkansas caused a liquid fuel explosion which ejected the ICBM and it’s attached 9 megaton nuclear bomb from the silo.
The crewman dropped a ratchet socket which fell 80 feet down the silo before bouncing in to the missile and puncturing it’s fuel tank. When crews failed to contain the leak, an explosion in the silo lifted the 740 ton silo door and ejected the 2nd stage of the missile and it’s warhead out of the silo.
The 2nd stage of the missile exploded upon leaving the silo, totally destroying the launch complex. The warhead landed near the launch complex entry gate. Luckily, it’s safety features worked and there was no explosion or release of radioactivity.
That was really good news, because according to the video below, that warhead had more destructive power than all the bombs dropped by all parties in WWII, including the two nuclear bombs dropped by the U.S. at the end of the war.
As explained in the video, if a bomb of this size was detonated over Washington D.C. enough radiation would be released to kill everyone in Washington, everyone in Baltimore, everyone in Philadelphia, half the population of New York City, with further injuries and deaths as far north as Boston.
That’s the scale of destruction which was avoided when the warhead in this incident didn’t explode.
A hair raising 90 minute documentary film about this event called “Command And Control” is available from the following sources. I just watched this again, it’s a compelling story, check it out.
Here’s a quick trailer of the film from YouTube.
You can view the full film on Netflix.
The full film can be rented on YouTube for $4.
The film is based on a book by Eric Schlosser regarding this event and related nuclear weapon safety issues. The book is available from Amazon.