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Narrowly Avoided Disasters in American History

Near Misses in American History

February 2023

Script

In 1943, the Allied leaders met in person for the first time to discuss how to win World War II. Franklin Roosevelt almost didn’t make it.

On November 13, Roosevelt departed for Tehran onboard the USS Iowa.i During the journey, a nearby destroyer tasked with escorting the president was conducting a drill when it accidentally fired a live torpedo at FDR’s vessel. The Iowa managed to turn just in time to save the president’s life.

That torpedo wasn’t the only weapon that nearly changed the course of American history.

On January 24, 1961, a B-52 bomber crashed in Goldsboro, North Carolina.ii Among the wreckage: two live, thermonuclear bombs, each 250 times more powerful than the ones detonated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.iii

Had the bombs gone off, it's estimated they would have killed 28,000 people and injured another 26,000. Fortunately, 25-year-old Air Force Lt. Jack ReVelle led a team to disarm the weaponsiv — which involved extracting detonators by hand.

Nuclear close calls didn’t end with the Cold War.

On January 25, 1995, Russian authorities noticed what looked like an American missile headed towards them.v In fact, the rocket was part of a joint effort between the United States and Norway to study the Northern Lights. Norway had shared their plans with Russia a month earlier, but word never reached Russian radar technicians.vi

Russian President Boris Yeltsin opened the briefcase containing the nuclear launch button, the only time in history a leader actually opened a nuclear football during a crisis.vii While little is known about the ensuing moments, Yeltsin had the good sense to close it back up.

Be thankful for all the history … that never happened.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. In 1943, a U.S. Navy destroyer accidentally fired a torpedo at a ship carrying President Franklin Roosevelt.
  2. North Carolina narrowly escaped accidental nuclear blasts after a B-52 crash in 1961.
  3. In 1995, Russia almost launched a nuclear strike against the United States after it mistook a scientific probe for a missile attack.

Source(s)

  1. "That One Time the U.S. Navy Torpedoed FDR" (Claire Barrett) — Military Times
  2. "Remembering the Night Two Atomic Bombs Fellon North Carolina" (Bill Newcott) — National Geographic
  3. "Declassified Report: Two Nuclear Bombs Nearly Detonated in North Carolina" (Emma Lacey-Bordeaux) — CNN 
  4. "8 Days, 2 H-Bombs, and 1 Team That Stopped a Catastrophe" (Mia Warren, Lindsey Feingold) — National Public Radio 
  5. The Norwegian Rocket Incident (The Black Brant Scare)Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation 
  6. January 25, 1995 The Norwegian Rocket Incident — United States European Command 
  7. "Cold War Doctrines Refuse to Die" (David Hoffman) — Washington Post 

Shownotes

SOUND: "Julie's Song" (Bradley Swafford)

FOOTAGE: Nejc Kosir (Pexels) // Bettmann / Contributor (Getty) // CITED SOURCES AND NEWS OUTLETS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH AND HAVE NOT ENDORSED OR SPONSORED ANY PORTION OF THIS PRODUCTION.

Sources

  1. Military Times
    "That One Time the U.S. Navy Torpedoed FDR" (Claire Barrett)
  2. National Geographic
    "Remembering the Night Two Atomic Bombs Fellon North Carolina" (Bill Newcott)
  3. CNN 
    "Declassified Report: Two Nuclear Bombs Nearly Detonated in North Carolina" (Emma Lacey-Bordeaux)
  4. National Public Radio 
    "8 Days, 2 H-Bombs, and 1 Team That Stopped a Catastrophe" (Mia Warren, Lindsey Feingold)
  5. Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation 
    The Norwegian Rocket Incident (The Black Brant Scare)
  6. United States European Command 
    January 25, 1995 The Norwegian Rocket Incident
  7. Washington Post 
    "Cold War Doctrines Refuse to Die" (David Hoffman)

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