WSFL Celebrates the 10th Anniversary of the Marker Commemorating the Wayne County Nuclear Mishap of ’61

WSFL Celebrates the 10th Anniversary of the Marker Commemorating the Wayne County Nuclear Mishap of ’61

On Saturday February 19th, WSFL travelled to the marker in Eureka chosen to honor those lost in the B-52 Nuclear Mishap, which was erected by the North Carolina Office of Archives and history in 2012. The Marker is at the intersection of West Main St. & North Church St.

According to The Historical Maker Database, “The plane that crashed in rural Wayne County, ten miles northeast of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base… was a B-52G Stratofortress Bomber. Internal structural damage had begun inside the right wing during refueling over South Carolina three hours earlier… it was attempting to land at Seymour Johnson. During preparation for landing, major structural failure of the right wing occurred immediately after which the aircraft broke up and exploded at 8,000 feet. Three members of the eight-man crew were killed.”

Two MK39 nuclear weapons were released; only one had its parachute deployed. The second bomb broke apart on impact, and after the search for the remaining components was called off, the decision was made to leave them behind. This included parts of the bomb still containing uranium. Groundwater tests of the area are still conducted to this day.

So we trekked out to see what the locals could tell us about living so close to unrecovered nuclear material, as the marker is located some three miles north of the crash. Many folks at the Eureka Mini Mart, the intersection’s only gas station and convenience store, said they knew where the site was located but where clearly standoff-ish about saying exactly where. None wanted to be photographed.

We then walked across to the Post Office & City Hall. I asked a gentleman getting mail from his PO Box if he new anything about the bomb… he said he wasn’t comfortable discussing it… the Town Manager might, but she had just left. Once again, no photographs please.

One other landmarks of note is BJ’s CafĂ© of Eureka. They’re world famous for their chicken salad, among other things. Alas, they’re only open until 2pm, and it was already past closing time. One guy told me people come from all around for the ribeye steak sandwich, sausage and peppers, and whatever else is on the chalkboard that day.

Seeing all the structures seemingly frozen in time at this intersection alone, it’s understandable people seek this spot out, and why the people who live there are so guarded about it. It is also apparent that folks in Eureka were luckier than they realized that fateful night in January 1961, where they narrowly missed becoming a tragic part of cold war history.