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The Nuclear Mishap in Arkansas That "Created" CNN

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 23, 2024 3:02 am

The Nuclear Mishap in Arkansas That "Created" CNN

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 23, 2024 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, a wrench fell; a rocket leaked, lost fuel pressure, collapsed, and exploded. A nuclear warhead soared out of the silo and into a ditch... at the intersection of Arkansas' fate and American journalism.

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Take it away, Randy. It was a normal day. We were in the newsroom. I worked the night schedule, so we got word that there was a fuel leak at a silo and we would hear things about the silos because there were close to a dozen in Arkansas. And this one was outside of Damascus, which is near Conway.

And it's about a 45 minute drive from Little Rock. So we heard about this fuel leak. So a reporter and I hop in the car and we drive up there and it's the regular military have the roadblocks up, flashing lights. And we get our video and our pictures and we needed to get something back for the next morning. And ABC Good Morning America had called saying they wanted to report. So we left and we started working on this story for Good Morning America. Well, it was about two o'clock in the morning. We're still working on the story.

And there were no cell phones because this was 1980. And we hear on the two way radio, the reporter who had replaced us was you could tell in the voice he was panicked. And he said it blew up. And we said, repeat.

He said. The road blew up. So we knew that.

Well, that story we were working on was no longer valid and it turned into a giant story. Well, there was a leak, which is what we first covered. And they had workmen in there in suits. And one of the airmen dropped a wrench and it dropped down the silo and started to bounce off the sides. And it hit the side of the missile and punctured it. And a spark caused it to blow up. And it was you know, the doors were closed and they are designed to take a nuclear blast. But from the outside, this was a this was a huge explosion on the inside.

And it just popped the doors off sort of like, I guess, squeezing a bottle and it pops the top off of it. That's what happened with the silo because missile there was nothing left of the missile. It was just that warhead that came flying out at the time. We didn't realize exactly how big of a story because the Air Force wouldn't confirm that there was a nuclear warhead on top of that missile.

Because sometimes there was, sometimes there wasn't. And we also didn't know that it had been blown out of the silo and had gone into a ditch on the side of the highway. And it wasn't until later that we heard that it happened and we could have been obliterated. That size warhead would have pretty much destroyed the entire state.

And even now, to this day, you would not be, because of the radiation, you wouldn't be able to come anywhere near Arkansas because of that explosion. But what we found out a week later, I was sitting on the assignment desk on the weekend and we got a phone call from a guy who sounded very nervous, very guarded. And he was what we called a scanner freak. He was a guy that would listen to scanners and he could tune them all in. Well, he said that he had a recording.

He had found the Air Force frequency and had recorded the radio traffic from that night. So I talked to him and he seemed legitimate. So I met him in a little diner in a town called Fordyce, which is in south Arkansas. And he handed me, never told me his name. And handed me just an envelope, slid it across the table and hightailed it out of the diner.

And I had a cassette tape. Command Post, this is Command One. If we can't get in touch with the chopper, we're going to move out with these guys towards Conway. That's Roger. Let me try to get Delta Charlie One again.

Break. Command Post to Delta Charlie One. You got it. This is Delta Charlie One.

Can you land right here on the road? Roger, sir. Thank you. Roger. On scene, Commander. The team went to the unit.

Now they're on their way out to give them a full report. Team Commander, Command Post. What unit are you talking about, sir? Let's not talk about that.

Speech or traffic, please? Say, let's not talk about that. That's Roger, sir. I wish I had something secure, but right now our people tell us that a forklift can go in and do its job and return without any difficulty.

And that's the EOD people talking. And it's laying in a ditch. You know, it's not even up close. It blew it out and it's laying in the ditch. It's all exposed. It's in a ditch and the commanding officer says to cover it up with a tarp. They've located what they want to locate and right now where it's laying out there we're just concerned about the airplane flying over taking pictures.

Should we go cover it with a tarp? At that point I realized that we could have all been killed. We played that on the air. ABC wouldn't run it because they were afraid of the recording being made of the Air Force.

And I believe there is an FCC law now that does not allow rebroadcasts of certain radio traffic. But it was a big story for months because there were investigations and we had to wait three days at the gate outside. We had someone stationed out there to get that one shot of the flatbed truck pulling out with the warhead on top of it because they were taking it down to Texas. And that was when CNN first went on the air and they brought a giant flatbed with a satellite dish and they were on 24 hours a day from there. And that was the birth of CNN.

That story. And a terrific job on the storytelling, editing and production by our own Monty Montgomery. And a special thanks to Randy Dixon, director of news, archives and media at the Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History at the University of Arkansas. And by the way, we do our show in Oxford, Mississippi, and that's home of Ole Miss, though it's a fellow SEC school doing the storytelling. The story of how a nuke almost blew up the state of Arkansas and started CNN here on Our American Story. For more information, please visit our website.

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