Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Faro's Broken Arrow

Unlike the Air Force brats I skipped class with in High School, I could never identify the many military aircraft constantly swooping and diving over rural Wayne County. See, I was but a misplaced country boy, not one of those jet mechanic's kid with airplane posters lining the inside of their lockers. But even a reluctant bumpkin like me had heard about the broken arrow of 1961 - in which a crippled B-52 dropped a hydrogen bomb just four miles from my future boyhood home. In the nuclear weapon community, it is nothing short of mythology. In the rusty Camaro circles I grew up in, it's little more than a backwoods curiosity, right up there with the Mystery Lights of Maco and the Devil's Tramping Ground. But unlike those paranormal question marks, Goldsboro's broken arrow most certainly happened. Dig it:

Forty six years ago today, a B-52G Stratofortress bomber stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base virtually disintegrated in mid-air and crashed near the cross-roads of Faro, NC. It ejected two hydrogen bombs as it fell. Like one of those warheads, five crewmen escaped by parachute. Three died -- two who went down with the doomed bomber, and another who was ended up ensnared in a tree two two miles from the crash site, his neck snapped. The H-bombs too jettisoned as the plane dropped, one bomb parachuting to Earth intact, the other striking a farmer's field at an estimated 760 miles per hour (Mach 1 for those of you out there in flight suits). Luckily, fiery annihilation did not ensue.

In the end, the soggy topography of backwaters Carolina saved the very region from this Hammer of the Gods. While one bomb landed quietly by parachute, the second one struck the muck of a farmer's field at top speed, entombing itself in mud-encased frozen freefall. Telling locals they were looking for a 'lost seat', the Army Corp of Engineers tried to excavate the site but never did recover all of the bomb's components. It remains buried in that swamp today, under a beanfield on Big Daddy's Road - a stretch of blacktop I remember for the old seafood restaurant that used to stand nearby, rather than the precipice of nuclear holocaust.

But that's what almost happened. The H-bomb in question's strength is forever in dispute, but the most conservative guess places it 250 times more powerful than the blast that erased Hiroshima. Had the lost bomb detonated, it would have carved out a crater one third of a mile wide, leveling every home in a five mile swath, including those of the good people who came to raise me. Even new cousins nine miles away would have suffered third-degree burns. It would have been a very bad day Downeast. Instead, the thermonuclear weapon vanished into the goop - out of sight, out of mind. That so many in the area know nothing or little of the incident is a testament of our limited attention span, perhaps. Even I, a UFO nerd with a soft spot for 'In Search Of' episodes, grew up only dimly aware of the white-hot annihilator down the road.

I did always think the water tasted funny, though.


Anonymous said...

This is nuts, is it April 1st?

extvtog said...

Very interesting Slinger. I love hearing true "myths" like this. Do you happen to know if there are any books on this incident ever written, or is this still considered "TOP SECRET" by the military?

Lenslinger said...

The closest thing to a definitive account of the incident is at http://www.ibiblio.org/bomb/index.html the website I linked in my posting.

amanda said...


yea its real, its not April 1st yet.


and a .mil

(search for "Goldsboro" in all of them)

HockeyPat said...

As an Air Force brat and resident of that five mile radius, I've been hearing that story for years.

One story Ive heard, more than a few times, is the CIA actually came and got the bomb and never told anyone, not even the Air Force.

Anonymous said...

This is a true story. I was nearly 10 years old when it happened. We lived a few miles from the site. Our family drove to see the pieces of wreckage and the recovery activity.

Matt said...

Damn, That's scarry, but I like how you molded that post together

Anonymous said...

This incident really Happened and I was a USAF dependant at the sitting in Goldsboro Junior High School the morning that it occurred. My Dad worked for Gen. Curtis E LeMay's Gang too.

My young friend and I noticed the USAF Staff Cars pulling up outside the window. Our teacher scolded us and said to pay attention to her, stop talking and looking out the window.

I was sitting next to the son of the unfortuate pilot, Major Eugene Shelton of that B-52 at Goldsboro Jr HS that morning.

He was taken out of class as was his older sister. The teacher(being non AF) had no idea what was happening when the AF Officer/Mom sent his sister into the class and she came up to our desks.

I'll forget his face as we both realized, this was about his Dad.
Being friends and knowing I too was an USAF dependant, she wanted me get his homework assignment to him to.

I never saw him or any of the family again after that day.

Ashley said...

I grew up after I was 10 years old on Old Herman Lane Rd just one turn and 100 yrds from Big Daddy's Rd. I met a few of the older firemen that had gone to the call. All of their stories were the same of being ran off because it was government business. I never used the well water. I was very still scared of the city water. At the time, for about a 2 mile radius only 2 of us children had graduated from High School.

Anonymous said...

A couple of corrections: First, we were not in school that day. My father was killed at night and we were informed that night on our front porch. My older sibling is a brother and he did not go to school that day either.

We were not lead off nor did we disappear. My older brother went to NC State and I graduated from UNC at Chapel Hill.

But it really happened.

John Shelton

Holly Hill said...

I grew up on Herman Lane Road, also and have always heard my Granddaddy and his friends talk aobut theincident. My Granddaddy ran an old country store in Faro where the local farmers were always stopping in. My grandparents remember being woke up by it and they said that they and other people at first thought it was the end of the world. They walked outside their house to find that the whole sky in the direction of the crash was lit up and red. My grandaddy said that when he went down to the sight that night and tried to help out, he actually walked by the bomb that parachuted down because it was hanging in a tree!

Alan Covey said...

Yup, I "covered" the anniversaries, too...and got a declassified photo of the bottom of the hole with Air Force crews in it, and the other "almost detonated" bomb hanging by its deployment 'chute in a tree. I also inerviewed and have become good friends with an Instructor Pilot who survived, even though he was not in an ejector seat...he dove for the pilots "hatch" after he punched out, had his chute deflate when the B-52 exploded on impact, landed in a field--scaring the local occupants...and the next day, after being separated for "interrogation/statements" he tried to drive home to Maysville but the "white-only" gas station on Ash Street wouldn't sell him any...He's black, and went on to become an Equal-Rights advocate, a father, a grandfather and a hero to everyone he and that crew helped save....including my wife, who was less than a year old then and living in Eastern Carolina.
Alan Covey

robmc said...