By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN
updated 7:58 PM EDT, Thu June 12, 2014

(CNN) -- On a January night in 1961, a U.S. Air Force bomber broke in half while flying over eastern North Carolina. From the belly of the B-52 fell two bombs -- two nuclear bombs that hit the ground near the city of Goldsboro.

A disaster worse than the devastation wrought in Hiroshima and Nagasaki could have befallen the United States that night. But it didn't, thanks to a series of fortunate missteps.

Declassified documents that the National Security Archive released this week offered new details about the incident. The blaring headline read: "Multi-Megaton Bomb Was Virtually 'Armed' When It Crashed to Earth."

I loved this part the most...

"I hit some trees. I had a fix on some lights and started walking."

The MK39 bombs weighed 10,000 pounds and their explosive yield was 3.8 megatons. Compare that to the bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki: They were 0.01 and 0.02 megatons.

But Rardin didn't know then what a catastrophe had been avoided.

"My biggest difficulty getting back was the various and sundry dogs I encountered on the road."