Archive for October, 2012

Mars Bluff: Broken Arrow

October 18, 2012

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2012 by Charles Glassmire


Oct. 18, 2012

Mars Bluff: Broken Arrow

        The United States Military has a special code word to signify a situation where a nuclear device is lost to control and supervision by its authorized military personnel. This constitutes an emergency of the first magnitude and triggers certain actions and procedures requiring immediate action. The code word is “Broken Arrow”.

On March 11, 1958, a Strategic Air Command B-47 Stratojet bomber, aircraft number 53-1876A, was piloted by aircraft commander Captain Earl Koehler. It was climbing out to 15,000 feet over South Carolina to join three others

B-47 Stratojet

in a nuclear training flight under operation Snow Flurry. Nestled in her bomb bay was a 30 Kiloton Mark 6 Nuclear Weapon.

Due to a mechanical malfunction, the weapon is not locked into the bomb bay after takeoff. This action would have put it into a secure condition impossible to drop from the aircraft, as is required by Air Force regulations.  Navigator Captain Bruce Kulka is ordered to the bomb bay to insert a safety pin locking device by hand. In attempting to do this he inadvertently triggers the emergency bomb release, dropping the nuclear bomb out of the aircraft and almost pulling him out of the bomb bay along with it – without his parachute! Below nestles the peaceful town of Mars Bluff South Carolina. The time is 4:19 p.m.

As the weapon, weighing almost four tons, smashes through the bomb bay doors, Captain Kulka splays across the weapon like Slim Pickens in Doctor Strangelove, and finds himself sliding after the bomb. He manages to grab

Slim Pickens Rides to glory in Dr. Strangelove.

onto a desperate handhold and pull himself back into the aircraft – but the bomb falls free. By this time the flight is at 15,000 feet altitude but moments later the plane is rocked by the blast from the detonation.

Now the Aircraft Commander must send a special coded message to his command at Hunter Air Force Base, indicating an unscheduled (sic!) bomb drop! But this alert procedure has never been used before, and the Operations Center at Hunter does not understand the message. They refuse to acknowledge the transmission! Now to add insult to injury, in desperation Aircraft Commander Koehler radios the civilian FAA tower at Florence Airport, a small airfield near Mars Bluff. A civilian pilot landing at Florence later reports hearing an uncoded open transmission over the civilian common channel, asking the tower to please telephone Hunter Operations and advise them aircraft 53-1876A has inadvertently dropped a “device”!

On the ground in the community of Mars Bluff, Walter Gregg’s family is enjoying a calm Tuesday afternoon. His two girls, age 9 and 6 are playing with their cousin (age 9) in a playhouse Walter had constructed for them. About 4 p.m. they decide to move out of the playhouse onto the lawn some 200 yards away. Mrs. Gregg is sewing in the house and Walter and his son are building shelves in a nearby shed.

The bomb impacts at 4:20 p.m. directly upon the wooded location of the girls’ playhouse behind Greggs home, and erupts in a tremendous explosion. Several tons of special TNT-like chemical have detonated upon impact. The

Location of Bomb Detonation and Gregg House.

event is not nuclear, since the pit containing the Plutonium core was not installed into the bomb and remains safely in the birdcage inside the aircraft; thus the explosion is fierce but chemical in nature and involves no radioactive material. Nevertheless the crater is 35 feet deep and 70 feet wide. (Still today pilots report seeing concentric circles of destruction surrounding the crater). Parts of the bomb are later recovered some seven football fields distant.

Several miles away, a motorist by the name of J. A. Sanders is travelling down U.S. Highway 301. He is startled by a tremendous noise and his automobile is

Bomb Crater.

twisted around on the road from the impact of the blast wave. A state trooper on the same highway does a U-turn and begins racing in the direction of a nearby rising column of black smoke. Residents of a nearby Mount Mizpah Baptist Church discover their building is severely damaged and partially destroyed …

 (To be continued)


(1)“Aircraft 53-1876A Has Lost a Device”, by Clark Rumrill, American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 51 Issue 5, Sept. 2000.

(2)“The Day a nuclear bomb fell on South Carolina…”, by Anthony Bond, 26 April 2012,, photos courtesy of the Columbia Star Newspaper.

(3)”Man Recalls Day a Nuclear Bomb Fell On His Yard”, by David Klepper, The Sun News – SC, 11-24-3,

(4)“Mars Bluff, South Carolina”, Wickipedia.

(5)”Mars Bluff “Broken Arrow”, August 08,

(6)“Atom Bomb Dropped Here”,

(7)“Mars Bluff Bomb”,

(8)“March 11,1958: An Atom Bomb fell on Mars Bluff,SC, by Tom Horton,