Sixty years ago, at the height of the Cold War, a B-52 bomber disintegrated over a small Southern town. An eyewitness recalls what happened next.
BILLY REEVES REMEMBERS that night in January 1961 as unseasonably warm, even for North Carolina. But it got a lot hotter just before midnight, when the walls of his room began glowing red with a strange light streaming through his window.
“I was just getting ready for bed,” Reeves says, “and all of a sudden I’m thinking, ‘What in the world…?'”
The 17-year-old ran out to the porch of his family’s farm house just in time to see a flaming B-52 bomber—one wing missing, fiery debris rocketing off in all directions—plunge from the sky and plow into a field barely a quarter-mile away.
“Everything around here was on fire,” says Reeves, now 78, standing with me in the middle of that same field, our backs to the modest house where he grew up. “The grass was burning. Big Daddy’s Road over there was melting. My mother was praying. She thought it was the End of Times.”
Like any self-respecting teenager, Reeves began running straight toward the wreckage—until it exploded.
“Then I ran the other way,” he says. [ … ]