| The Associated Press|
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2001
Nuke still loose on U.S. coast
In February 1958 after a mid-air collision, an Air Force bomber was forced to drop a nuclear bomb into the shallow waters off the Georgia coast. A B-47 bomber on a training mission collided with a fighter jet near Savannah and had to drop the bomb to land safely. The 7,600-pound bomb has never been recovered and has lingered for decades only in vague memories and folklore.
Now, 43 years later, questions raised by a former military pilot and a Georgia congressman have caused the government to consider renewing its search for the lost bomb near Tybee Island, 12 miles east of Savannah. The bomb was dumped on the south side of Tybee's uninhabited sister island, called Little Tybee. The military spent weeks searching for the sunken weapon, then gave up.
The Air Force insists the bomb lacks a key plutonium capsule needed to cause a nuclear explosion, though it still contains radioactive uranium and the explosive power of 400 pounds of TNT. But Derek Duke, a former Air Force pilot who's been researching the case for two years insists, "It's a nuclear bomb. It's like if I take the battery out of your car, then I try to convince you it's not a car."
Air Force officials aren't so sure. After weighing the potential dangers of leaving the bomb against the cost of finding it, possibly $1 million or more, they plan to decide soon whether a new search is warranted. Officials believe the bomb sank at least five miles off the coast, beneath about 20 feet of water and an additional 15 feet of sand and silt. But there's no guarantee the bomb could be found. Experts have cautioned that tides and strong weather patterns over the years could have moved the bomb out to sea.
Duke's own search revived what had become a largely forgotten tale on Tybee Island, a beach community of 4,000 where rustic bungalows sit beside $500,000 homes. For residents who remembered, the bomb was ancient history. Others had never heard the story or discounted it as local myth.
"Savannahians have all kinds of tales and legends," said U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, who represents coastal Georgia in Congress. "And part of the Savannah lore was there's a bomb off Tybee. And you'd go, 'Is there really?'"
Kingston was skeptical until Duke came to him last summer with a proposal to find the lost weapon himself using a team of former military experts with technology capable of scanning the ocean floor. Newspaper clippings from 1958 and government documents indicated the bomb was real. But how dangerous was it?
At Kingston's urging, the Air Force checked its original records on the bomb and concluded that the bomb off the coast of Savannah is not capable of a nuclear explosion. If it exploded, the bomb "would create maybe a 10-foot diameter hole and shock waves through the water of approximately 100 yards,"said Maj. Don Robbins, deputy director of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons and Counter Proliferation Agency. "Even boats going over it would not even notice. They might see some bubbles coming out around them."
A month after the Tybee Island incident, in March 1958, a second B-47 dropped a similar bomb, without its nuclear payload, in Florence, S.C. The resulting explosion blasted a crater into the ground and injured six people.
- The Associated Press
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