In 1964, a US military plane carrying two nuclear bombs crashed in Maryland

A Boeing B-52H Stratofortress (61-023) flying with its vertical stablizer sheared off. The aircraft was being used as a testbed to identify structural weaknesses in the airframe when the event occurred.
10 January 1964: 3 days before the Savage Mountain crash, a New Mexico B-52 test showed the vertical stabiliser could fail. United States Air Force, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On Monday 13th January 1964, United States B-52 bomber aircraft crashed during a storm over Maryland. The plane was carrying two nuclear bombs at the time.

Three crew members were killed in the incident.

Operation Chrome Dome

At the height of the tensions during the Cold War, the United States military started Operation Chrome Dome, an operation to maintain a continuous airborne presence of nuclear-armed B-52 bombers in the air, ready to strike enemy targets if necessary.

After completing a mission to Europe and returning to Georgia via Massachusetts, one B-52, with the radio call sign ‘Buzz One Four’, encountered significant turbulence over Pennsylvania.

The 1964 Savage Mountain B-52 crash

Newspaper clipping from the Cumberland Evening Times - Five in AF Crew Presumed Dead
Cumberland Evening Times – 13th January 1964

During the turbulence, encountered at 30,000 feet at around 1:45am, a vertical stabiliser on the aircraft broke off, causing severe damage and making the plane impossible to control.

The pilot ordered the crew to bail out, leaving the aircraft to plummet towards the ground. Major Robert E. Townley, the radar bombardier, did not manage to eject and was killed when the plane crashed into Savage Mountain in Maryland.

Two other crew members, navigator Major Robert L. Payne and tail gunner T/Sgt Melvin D. Wooten ejected but died of exposure due to the harsh winter conditions on the ground.

Pilot Major Thomas W. McCormick successfully parachuted onto Maryland’s Meadow Mountain ridge and sought refuge at the Tomlinson Inn in Grantsville while notifying the United States Air Force of the crash. Co-pilot: Captain Parker C. Peedin also parachuted to safety and was rescued,

Recovery of Nuclear Bombs

The two nuclear weapons were found relatively intact amidst the wreckage of the aircraft. They were removed two days after the crash and relocated to the Cumberland Municipal Airport.

Buzz One Four

In 2017, the grandson of Pilot Major Thomas W. McCormick, filmmaker Matt McCormick released a documentary about the crash entitled Buzz One Four.