Titan Missile Site Explosion Prompts Evacuation

DAMASCUS - This September 20, 1980, residents in Damascus (Faulkner County) woke to see an exploding missile shooting hundreds of feet into the sky, sending earthquake like shock waves across north central Arkansas.

Early signs of an impending disaster started when a fuel leak in the underground missile prompted the removal of local residents within a one-mile radius of the missile site. Immediately, local law enforcement officers closed the highway in the vicinity, and alerted persons entering the area.

The Air Force began repairing the missile when a maintenance crewman accidentally dropped a socket wrench inside the silo, breaking the thin metal shell of the missile fuel tank, and exploding the missile.

The silo, like a big tube in the ground, housed a 10-megaton nuclear warhead, which was thrown clear from the explosion intact. The inside of the 16-foot deep silo was reduced to rubble and the concrete door blown to pieces.

The Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile was suspended in a 16-foot deep silo known as a launch tube or "gun barrel." The inside of the launch tube was covered with an acoustical material to reduce the noise. Platforms inside the silo held generators, pump and other machines used to service the missile. A separate control operation was located in a three-story underground structure.

Damascus was not the first Titan II missile disaster in Arkansas. On August 10, 1965, a fire started in a missile silo northwest of Searcy. An explosion disrupted the electrical system and jammed the silo doors shut. The 53 civilian construction workers trapped inside died. The fire was caused by an explosion on level two, 50 feet below the surface.

The Damascus missile accident brought about the decision to remove the 20-year-old Titan II system beginning in April of 1985. The missile system was authorized in the 1950s, and construction began in the early 1960s. About 2,000 civilian workers were involved in construction of 18 missile sites throughout central Arkansas.

The missiles can hit targets 6,000 miles away. They were part of the nation's military defense system. Air Force personnel from Little Rock Air Force Base at Jacksonville were in charge of the missiles.

Here's the story of a man that survived another accident in 1965.

A summary of the 1980 incident is located here.