Documentary On Arkansas Nuclear Missile Accident To Be Screened

Oct 3, 2016

Credit PBS

Screenings are planned around the state this coming weekend for the new documentary thriller Command & Control. It looks at the September 1980 accident at a Titan II Missile silo involving a nuclear weapon in the north Arkansas town of Damascus.

A worker doing routine maintenance on the missile dropped a socket from a wrench which fell, puncturing the rocket's fuel tank, causing it to leak. The film’s director, Robert Kenner, says the military was unprepared for the accident or how to respond, with those involved doing the best they could in the situation.

"It was basically 10 hours of terror because sitting on top of the missile, which they began to realize was going to go, was the most powerful warhead the U.S. has ever put in our arsenal. So not only was Arkansas going to be wiped off the map, but much of the eastern seaboard was going to be contaminated with radioactive material," Kenner told KUAR. You can hear the full interview above.

While the Arkansas accident received national news attention, just how close the nuclear bomb came to detonating wasn't immediately revealed. Kenner says author Eric Schlessor, who wrote the book which the film was based on, learned many of those details.

"The Air Force did not release the information that the warhead itself was in jeopardy of detonating. It took Eric Schlessor through Freedom of Information requests, as well as meeting up with the designers of the warhead who were flown to Damascus that night who were terrified that yes, it could explode. And they say that ultimately, it was luck that prevented it."

The film will make its Arkansas debut Friday on the opening night of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, then show near Damascus Saturday night at Bee Branch, then in Little Rock on Sunday as part of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Early in 2017 it will make its broadcast premiere on PBS' American Experience. Kenner and Schlosser will take part in discussions after each of the screenings.


Friday, October 7, 7 p.m.
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Arlington Hotel, Mountain Valley Spring Water Cinema 2
239 Central Avenue
Hot Springs, AR 71901
Tickets are required, learn more here.

Saturday, October 8, 6 p.m.
South Side Bee Branch Fine Arts Center
334 South Side Road
Bee Branch, AR 72013
Free and open to the public, learn more here.

Sunday, October 9, 5 p.m. (reflects a change in the screening time.)
Ron Robinson Theater
100 River Market Avenue
Little Rock, AR 72201
Free and open to the public, RSVP required.