From Esquire Weekly: Terrifying Nuclear Near-Misses

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FROM THIS WEEK’S ISSUE…

Eric Schlosser, the best-selling author of Fast Food Nation, reveals the truly terrifying secrets of the nuclear near misses that brought the world to the brink of disaster (not that we knew anything about it at the time). This Esquire Weekly cover story features an interview with Eric, an exclusive chapter from Command and Control, his brilliant new book, and six animated graphics that retell stories that might be funny if they weren’t so damn frightening. Here’s a sample….

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Faro, North Carolina, January 23, 1961: A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber carrying two Mark-39 hydrogen bombs developed a fuel leak. While preparing to make an emergency landing, a weight imbalance put the plane into an uncontrolled spin. The captain heard a loud explosion and ordered the crew to bail out. Moments later, at an altitude of about 10,000 feet, the B-52 started to break apart.

As the aircraft spun downward, the centrifugal forces pulled a lanyard in the cockpit. The lanyard was connected to the bomb release mechanism, and one of the hydrogen bombs fell from the plane above Faro, North Carolina.

The bomb’s arming wires were yanked out and the weapon responded as though it had been deliberately released by the crew above an enemy target. The parachutes deployed, switches closed, batteries charged, and when the bomb hit the ground, a firing signal was sent.

But the Mark-39 didn’t detonate. A single safety switch in the cockpit had worked. An investigation later found that similar cockpit switches sometimes didn’t work. The Mark-39 hydrogen bomb was almost three hundred times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

Had that Mark 39 detonated in North Carolina, firestorms would have engulfed the state, and lethal radioactive fallout might have spread as far north as Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Also in this week’s Esquire Weekly: We celebrate the genius of Louis CK, the remarkable story of the Gridiron misfits who decided to take on the Australians at rugby league (despite never having previously played the game) and an interactive guide to the best suits under £400. For the rest of the Eric Schlosser story, and much more besides, download Esquire Weekly – our snappy, all-new iPad edition.

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