Command and Control Profiles Nuclear Near-Miss
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Command and Control, which airs this week on CET, exposes the terrifying truth about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal and shows what can happen when weapons built to protect us threaten to destroy us.
This high-stakes documentary thriller is a cautionary tale of freak accidents, near misses, human fallibility and extraordinary heroism recounts, in chilling, minute-by-minute detail, the story of a deadly 1980 accident at a Titan II missile complex in Damascus, Arkansas. Through the first-person accounts of Air Force personnel, weapon designers and first responders who were on the scene, the film reveals the unlikely chain of events that caused the accident and the feverish efforts to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States — 600 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
On the evening of September 18, 1980, Airmen David F. Powell and Jeffrey L. Plumb were performing routine maintenance at the Titan II silo in Damascus, Arkansas. At the age of 21, Powell was considered a highly-experienced missile technician; Plumb, who had just turned 19, was still in training. As the two stood on a platform near the top of the Titan II, a socket fell from Powell’s wrench, plummeted 70 feet and, shockingly, punctured the missile. A stream of highly explosive rocket fuel began pouring into the silo.
Nothing like this had ever happened to a Titan II before and the Air Force had no procedures in place to deal with the event. For the next eight hours, the leadership of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) frantically struggled to figure out how to prevent a massive explosion and retain control of the thermonuclear warhead — a weapon so powerful that it could destroy much of Arkansas and deposit lethal radioactive fallout across the East Coast.
Command and Control airs at 9pm Tuesday, January 10, on ThinkTV16 and CET. You can watch a preview at http://www.thinktv.org/air/featured-programs/command-and-control-american-experience/ or http://www.cetconnect.org/featured-programs/command-and-control-american-experience/.