An accident in 1980 at a missile launch facility in farmland north of Damascus, Arkansas could have led to the detonation of the 9-megaton nuclear warhead, leading to massive destruction across the state as well as radiation fallout there and in neighbouring states.

On the evening of 18th September an 8 lb (3.6 kg) socket was accidentally dropped while checking pressure on one of the fuel tanks of the Titan-II missile. It fell some 24 metres and led to the first-stage fuel tank being pieced, causing it to leak dangerous fuel into the silo. The risk of an explosion was very high, and despite efforts by personnel over the next 9 hours the missile eventually exploded (3am 19th Sept.). A number of personnel were hurt in the explosion, with one airman dying later in hospital and 21 others in the area of the blast seriously injured.

The initial explosion blew off the 740-ton silo door and ejected the second stage and warhead. As the second stage cleared the silo it too exploded, and the warhead landed some 30 metres away in a ditch near the entry gate to the complex. Luckily the safety features operated correctly and there was no loss of radioactive material. On examination it was found that the explosion had cut all electrical power to the warhead, rendering it inert.

titan missile_postcard_1973_400
Diagram of a missile silo facility