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Titan II Missile Explosion 1980 Damascus Arkansas

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The Titan II Launch Complex 374-7 in Southside (Van Buren County), just north of Damascus (Van Buren and Faulkner counties), became the site of the most highly publicized disaster in the history of the Titan II missile program when its missile exploded within the launch duct on September 19, 1980. An Air Force airman was killed, and the complex was destroyed. The Titan II Missile Launch Complex 374-7 Site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on February 18, 2000.

"On September 18, 1980, at about 6:30 p.m., an airman conducting maintenance on the Titan II missile dropped a wrench socket, which fell about eighty feet before hitting and piercing the skin on the rocket’s first-stage fuel tank, causing it to leak. The commander of the 308th Strategic Missile Wing quickly formed a potential-hazard team, and by 9:00 p.m., the Air Force personnel manning the site were evacuated. About one hour later, Air Force security police began evacuating nearby civilian residents as efforts continued to determine the status of the missile and the fuel leak." Encyclopedia of Arkansas [1]

Early in the morning of Friday, September 19, a two-man PTS investigation team consisting of Senior Airman David Lee Livingston and Sergeant Jeff K. Kennedy entered the silo. Because their vapor detectors indicated an explosive atmosphere, the two were ordered to evacuate. The team was then ordered to reenter the silo to turn on an exhaust fan. Senior Airman David Livingston reentered the silo to carry out the order and shortly thereafter, at about 3:00 a.m., the hypergolic fuel exploded. The initial explosion catapulted the 740-ton silo door away from the silo and ejected the second stage and warhead. Once clear of the silo, the second stage exploded. The W53 warhead landed about 100 feet (30 m) from the launch complex's entry gate; its safety features managed to prevent any loss of radioactive material or nuclear detonation.

In Popular Culture

A 1988 television movie, Disaster at Silo 7, is based on this event.

Season 4, episode 4 of Scorpion (TV series) is largely based on this event.

For additional information:

In September 2013, Eric Schlosser published Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. It focused on the explosion, as well as other Broken Arrow incidents during the Cold War.

A documentary film titled Command and Control from director Robert Kenner, based on the book by Eric Schlosser, was released January 10, 2017. The film was broadcast by PBS as part of its American Experience series.

Cold War Resources Associated with the 308th Strategic Missile Wing in Arkansas Multiple-Property Submission Historic Context. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Fellone, Frank. “Explosive Era: Tour Visits Site Where Titan II Blast in 1980 Sent Warhead Flying.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 21, 2015, pp. 1E, 6E. Online at (accessed March 9, 2016).

Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. New York: Penguin, 2013.

Stumpf, David K. “We Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny.” In Sentinels of History: Reflections on Arkansas Properties on the National Register of Historic Places, edited by Mark K. Christ and Cathryn H. Slater. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.

———. Titan II: A History of a Cold War Missile Program. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.

Interview with Eric Schlosser on c-span



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