On this day in history in 1980 – September 19, an Air Force repairman doing routine maintenance in a Titan II silo in Damascus, Arkansas dropped a heavy wrench socket. It rolled off a work platform and bounced down about eighty feet to the bottom of the silo, striking the missile and causing a leak from a pressurized fuel tank. The missile complex and the surrounding area were evacuated and a team of specialists was called in from Little Rock Air Force Base, the missile’s main support base.
Some eight and one-half hours after the initial puncture, fuel vapors within the silo ignited and exploded, blowing the 740-ton launch duct closure door 200 feet into the air and some 600 feet northeast of the launch complex. The W-53 nuclear warhead landed about 100 feet from the launch complex’s entry gate; its safety features operated correctly and prevented any loss of radioactive material. One member of the team, his leg broken, was blown 150 feet from the silo. Another lay amid the rubble of the launch duct for some time before security personnel located and evacuated him, but he died later that day of his injuries. Twenty-one people were injured by the explosion or during rescue efforts.
In early October 1980, cleanup operations gathered tons of debris from 400 acres surrounding the launch complex and pumped some 100,000 gallons of contaminated water from the silo. Ultimately, the Air Force decided to seal the complex with soil, gravel, and small concrete debris.