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Air Force ready to release Tybee Bomb findings

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  Air Force ready to release Tybee Bomb findings

Nuke hunter: 'If the Air Force came in with all of their equipment and came up with a blank, that concerns us.'

Bret Bell

U.S. Air Force officials will return to Savannah next week, almost nine months after departing with cylinders of sand scooped from an area that at least one man believes is the final resting place of the lost Tybee Bomb.

It's not clear what those officials will say during the planned June 17 meeting with Savannah and Tybee Island leaders. The Air Force has remained stubbornly quiet about the findings of the September search of Wassaw Sound.

The only indication came from an April letter penned by Air Force Col. James DeFrank, who wrote that the search team "did not find significant radiation levels" during the operation.

What it did find remains a mystery that has only deepened with the report's long delay.

"It shouldn't take this long to come up with a conclusion," Tybee Mayor Walter Parker said. "I know there is a lot of federal red tape, but this length of time has upset me more than anything else."

The Mark 15 hydrogen bomb has been missing since February 1958, when an Air Force bomber on a training mission dumped it in the water following a mid-air collision.

A 10-week search that followed in the shallows just off Tybee Island came up empty, and the Air Force declared it "irretrievably lost."

Last fall's multi-agency search, in which scientists took radiation readings and underwater soil samples, was the first official hunt in 46 years.

It came after retired Air Force Lt. Col. Derek Duke, a Statesboro resident, measured unusually high radiation readings during his own private search of Wassaw Sound last July.

A Canadian production company, making a documentary for National Geographic International, tagged along during that outing.

The segment, which has been airing in recent months, recorded Duke as he watched his Geiger counter spike over an area off Little Tybee Island.

"We've got it," Duke said from the small boat.

Duke said Monday that he feels a powerful storm that blew in the month before the federal search shifted sands in the football field-sized area that was scoured, perhaps further covering the 7,600-pound weapon.

He noticed sand bars in areas where none existed just weeks before.

"I've been out there enough to know that things had changed," he said. "If the Air Force came in with all of their equipment and came up with a blank, that concerns us.

"But we have to be careful that we don't pre-suppose what they are going to say."

Duke said he has not been privy to the report's contents. He plans to attend the press conference with Arthur Arseneault, a retired Navy lieutenant commander who led the original Tybee Bomb search in 1958.

"Frankly, I'm relieved this day has come," Duke said. "It's almost been a year now, and we finally have a report, no matter what it says."



The 12-foot-long Mark 15 hydrogen bomb weighs 7,600 pounds and bears the serial number "47782." It has an aluminum skin and contains 400 pounds of conventional high explosives and an undisclosed amount of highly enriched uranium. Its explosive yield is about 100 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Officials say the bomb lacked a detonation device when dropped, rendering it incapable of nuclear explosion.


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Revised: May 23, 2003 .