Goldsboro, NC, January 24, 1961- A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52G Stratofortress, 58-0187, (the last Block 95 airframe),call sign “Keep 19”, of the 4241st Strategic Wing, 822d Air Division, Eighth Air Force, based at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base was on Coverall airborne alert. The bomber was commanded by Major Walter S. Tulloch, U.S. Air Force, with pilots Captain Richard W. Hardin and First Lieutenant Adam C. Mattocks. Other crewmembers were Major Eugene Shelton, Radar Navigator; Captain Paul E. Brown, Navigator; First Lieutenant William H. Wilson, Electronics Warfare Officer; Major Eugene H Richards, Electronics Warfare Instructor; Technical Sergeant Francis R. Barnish, Gunner. It was armed with two 3–4-megaton Mark 39 nuclear bombs. Around midnight on January 23–24, 1961, the bomber had a rendezvous with a tanker for aerial refueling. During the refueling the boom operator noted that the B-52’s right wing was leaking fuel and informed Major Tulloch.
The refueling was aborted, and the aircraft was directed to assume a holding pattern off the coast until the majority of fuel was consumed. While waiting the leak got worse. 37,000 pounds of fuel was lost in three minutes. “Keep 19” declared an in-flight emergency had headed towards Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Descending through 10,000 feet the aircraft became unstable and the crew lost control of the aircraft. Major Tulloch ordered the crew to bail out at 9000 feet. Five men bailed out and landed safely. Another bailed out but did not survive the landing, and two died in the crash. The third pilot of the bomber, Lt. Adam Mattocks, is the only man known to have successfully bailed out of the top hatch of a B-52 without an ejection seat.
The fatalities were:
Major Eugene H Richards
Major Eugene Shelton
Technical Sergeant Francis R. Barnish
The aircraft exploded in mid air.
In attempting to gain control of the B-52, Major Tulloch ordered the two nuclear bombs be jettisoned. However the weapons were not safed prior them being dropped.
Its parachute deployed and it landed intact. Fortunately, a quick thinking crewman yanked the safety pins from the bomb’s power generator thereby cutting electrical power to the bomb’s detonation mechanism preventing the bomb from going off.
Its parachute failed to deploy, and a fully functional and armed nuclear weapon struck North Carolina about.50 miles Northwest the State’s Capitol, Raleigh. Had the weapon detonated the death toll was estimated to be over 60,000. Luckily, the chute failed and the mechanism to detonate the nuclear weapon was damaged and failed to work.
Recovery of the buried bomb was very difficult. After eight days, the ordnance team had recovered most of the bomb, including the 92 detonators and conventional explosive “lenses” of the “primary,” the first stage implosion section. The uranium-235/plutonium-239 “pit”—the very core of the bomb— was recovered on 29 January. The “secondary,” however, was never found.