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February 5, 1958: The Tybee Bomb Incident

Posted February 05, 2007 4:43 PM by Steve Melito

Today is the anniversary of the Tybee Bomb Incident, a mid-air collision that caused the crew of a B-47 Stratojet to drop a 7600-lb. hydrogen bomb in the waters of Wassaw Sound near Tybee, Georgia. In the early morning hours of February 5, 1958, a B-47 bomber from Florida's Homestead Air Force Base (AFB) collided with an F-86 Sabre while on a training mission near Savannah, Georgia. The pilot of the F-86 bailed out of his burning fighter jet, but the crew of the B-47 determined that their aircraft was damaged but still flyable. After three failed landing attempts at nearby Hunter AFB, the bomber crew requested permission to jettison the B-47's payload – a Mark 15, Mod 0, transportation-configured hydrogen bomb. "I thought that if we landed short", recalled B-47 pilot Howard Richardson, "the plane would catch the front of the runway and the bomb would shoot through the plane like a bullet through a gun barrel".

Traveling at 200 knots (230 mph), Richardson's aircraft dropped the unarmed hydrogen bomb from 7200 ft. above Wassaw Sound. The crew did not witness an explosion, and managed to land the B-47 at Hunter AFB without further incident. On February 6, 1958, the United States Air Force (USAF) dispatched the 2700th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron to recover the missing bomb. Over 100 U.S Navy (USN) personnel also joined in the hunt for the "broken arrow", using sonar equipment and galvanic drag-and-cable sweeps over a three square-mile area where water depths ranged from 8 to 40 feet. On April 16, the Air Force concluded its nine-week search and declared that the 12-ft. hydrogen bomb was irretrievably lost. During the recovery efforts near Tybee, another B-47 from Hunter AFB accidentally dropped an unarmed nuclear weapon near Florence, South Carolina.

In August 2000, Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) asked the Air Force to reopen its investigation of the Tybee Bomb Incident. The USAF agreed and worked with experts from the USN, the Department of Energy (DOE), the Savannah District of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Skidaway Oceanographic Institute. In a report dated April 12, 2001, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons and Counterproliferation Agency reported that engineers from Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL) had performed various aerodynamic and hydrodynamic trajectory calculations, but could only provide "reasonable estimates" of the Tybee bomb's location and condition. The Navy's Supervisor of Salvage was also cautious, reporting that even the use of side-scan sonar and magnetometers offered only "a very low probability of successfully locating the bomb". Sub-bottom profiling could use acoustic imaging to identify content below the seafloor, but would cost $10,000 per day.

As part of its final report, the Air Force also attempted to allay citizen concerns that the B-47 Stratojet may have carried a "live" Mark 15 hydrogen bomb. "There is no current or future possibility of a nuclear explosion", the Air Force reported, since records from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) indicate that the bomber's Mod 0 weapon had not been upgraded to a Mod 2 device, a "self-contained fully functional nuclear bomb". Furthermore, because the B-47 was on a training mission, "it was common practice to train with transportation configured bombs" - not live ones. As for the Tybee bomb's 400 lbs. of conventional explosives and metallic components, the Air Force reported that the "the risk associated with the spread of heavy metals in the bomb is low; and undisturbed, the explosives in the bomb pose no hazard".

Although Congressman Kingston told reporters he was "confident that the experts did their job", retired USAF Colonel Derek Duke remained unconvinced. In 2004, Duke claimed that he had used a Geiger counter to find the Tybee bomb in just twelve feet of water less than one mile from shore. "If we're so worried about terrorists getting a hold of nuclear weapons", Duke warned, "why aren't we doing anything about this? Right down there, somewhere, is the material to make a dirty bomb."

Resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tybee_Bomb

http://www.tybeetyme.com/tb/airforce_leave_bomb.htm

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,868306,00.html

http://www.milnet.com/clearwat/inchart.htm

Editor's Note:

Like this story? See also January 17, 1966: The Palomares Incident

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#1

Re: February 5, 1958: The Tybee Bomb Incident

02/06/2007 12:51 PM

What's the big deal? What's the worst that could happen?

It's not like it's made of trans-fats or something.

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Anonymous Poster
#2

Re: February 5, 1958: The Tybee Bomb Incident

02/06/2007 12:52 PM

OK, Duke you found it. Now take us to it and we will recover it. In other words it's time to put up or shut up...

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Re: February 5, 1958: The Tybee Bomb Incident

02/06/2007 1:15 PM

This is one of those incidents with a lot of mouth-breathing nuttiness associated with it, so it's hard to tell what's conspiracy fact and what's conspiracy theory.

But at http://www.keepingapace.com/blogarchives/mil_usaf/hunt_for_unarmed_hbomb.php, among other places, you get the idea that our Colonel Duke did, in fact, do his best to help locate/retrieve it.

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#4

Re: February 5, 1958: The Tybee Bomb Incident

02/14/2009 9:28 PM

I am very familiar with this incident and have been in contact with Richardson, Lagerstrom and the F-86 pilot Stewart, Richardson moreso than the others. Sadly, and somewhat odd, Robert Lagerstrom, the co-pilot on this incredible flight, passed away on Feb 5, 2009, 51 years to the day after the incident. I don't necessarily consider myself an expert on this incident but have been in contact with Col Howard Richardson, the pilot of Ivory 2, the ill-fated B-47 for quite some time and have researched other documents obtained from the Pentagon under the FOIA process. In fact, we discussed his flight for almost two hours yesterday and again today (Feb 14, 2009). I am in the process of writing a book about this unbelievable flight titled Ivory 2. Next month (March) I will visit Col. Richardson at his home near Jackson, MS for a final interview. He is quite a charcter and still has all his wits with him. There has been several errors made over the years concerning this incident. The above states that Richardson attempted to land 3 times at Hunter before ejecting the bomb. It's true, that statement was in an official document but was added by an Air Force general after the fact for unknown reasons. After ejecting the bomb, Richardson pulled up in a tight left turn toward Hunter AFB, and made an incredible straight in landing to runway 28, the only attempt he made. He told me he turned off the runway onto a taxiway, quickly shut the engines down and all three crew members scrambled out the bottom of the aircraft and kissed the tarmac in from of a large crowd that had gathered to witness the landing.

Charles D. Richardson

JamaRPublisher, LLC

www.JamaRPublisher.com

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Anonymous Poster
#5
In reply to #4

Re: February 5, 1958: The Tybee Bomb Incident

07/25/2010 9:48 AM

Mr Richardson, I am interested to know if you finished your book about the tybee bomb incident. If so, where can I purchase this book.Thanks,

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#7
In reply to #4

Re: February 5, 1958: The Tybee Bomb Incident

12/07/2011 1:29 PM

Richardson and additional USAF officials involved with the handling and transporting of the Mark-15 0, have all been in agreeance that the fact is the schematics for the Mark-15 0 hydrogen bomb drawn up in the most part by its creator Edward Teller the mastermind behind this monstrosity of a firecracker showed the following... There was implamented by E. Teller himself, a "fail safe" a hardly ever mentioned or understood secondary nuclear explosive trigger device made to make the bomb achieve Thermo. in the event that the "primary" failed to acieve objective detonation of the nuke. This secondary trigger is Not a magic bullet type of scenario, There are actual schematics to prove this exists and that this seconday triggering device was never used in the way the Primary detination plug was( detaching it from the housing to dissarm weapon sytems) but it was and probably still is attached to the bomb laying in the Atlantic coast shores. Workers/transporters/pilots all enlisted personel have spoke or documented that within the makings of the bomb there was a fail safe trigger sytem that is said by these people to allways be present and never was disconnected for any Simulated Combat Exercises or simple transportation of the bombs. One of the men stated in released and declassified documentation ( freedom of information act ) that thoughout his entire 30 yr. career he had seen many things and that when these bombs were getting loaded onto the B-47's by him and his Unit it was allways present and never by his own recalection removed. The Sec. Nuclear detination trigger is made up of simple but harmfull materials including highly enriched uranium, wepons grade plutonium,Lithium,berylium, and polonium in varying ammounts still classified to this day. 1st: the triggering sytsem is a "spark plug" type of device meant to innitiate thermo. fission explosion of the bomb. 2nd: is the design of this plug= a hollow plug with a roughly 1" radius opening central, the plug is compacted with nuclear fuel. 3rd:is that the plug outer shell/capsule is made up of either plutonium or highly enriched uranium actual documentaion of material used in Tybee bomb not stated in research materials found. ( ammount used to make plug and which one it is, remains classified behind the pentegons shroud of secrets) 4th: would be the contents of materials used to create the nuclear fuel, the most common to the times, was a highly volitile one and it was probably ( classified info. again ammounts/exact compouds ) a little gem of a fuel source called " Lithium-6 Deuteride ", this is my edjucated guess of the fuel source because of its wide spread use at the time, in simmular aplications. So here we have a possible problem in the " let it stay submerged/lost and it will be fine mentality", no worries they say! hah! if all of this is actually intact and is residing within the bomb there a a list a mile long of possible scenarios that may occur, with destructive and deadly results. I am just saying that, to leave such a unknown risk to life, ecosytems, just the balace of the earth's enviroment as a whole to chance and gambling with destiny like a wild night at the craps table in Vegas, putting your entire lifes saving on one roll for example, to me seems like a risk that only the government and ellected officials within,selfishly and with contempt, give themselves the power play with our lives and not give much of a passing thought to what may happen in the future to this bomb and the people that "will" become affected by the multiple reations of radiation, and its introduction to the exterior world of the bomb capule. This radiation eventually leaching into the Floridian Aquifer and surrounding coastal ecosytems is if you really give it some critical thought, going to eventually be expelled and then and only then will the government pull their heads out of thier keisters and see what they have created by their ignorance to common sence thinking and conceeded personality traits shared my many to ignore what does not immediatly affect themselves directly( turning a blind eye to existing issues with more importance than there afternoon tee time and lunch with the govenor and her little ankle biteing oompa loompa of a dog, she proudly carries around in her $3000 purse...crazy world huh?) the fact still remains and will until this matter at hand takes a turn towards the worse or the better side of the scenario, is in one simple to understand ( even for the Gov. Officials that like to cover up their unfortunately comedic slapstick style of running sh!t)...."NOTHING, I MEAN...NOTHING LASTS FOREVER", all things come to an end eventually this bomb hopefully will be recovered before the finnality of it all rears its ugly head to everyone. Amazing to me that nobody hardly mentions the secondary trigger and its attributes to become what some might call a really bad apple in the bushel that is our enviroment. It will happen given enough time...mark my words! " if you leave it...you are making a terrible mistake. God bless the ones who will fall as a product of your incompetance". Ok... I have done my share of venting alloted for my week, my fingers are cramping up and I just noticed that I myself talk "WAY TOO MUCH SOMETIMES!!!" so, on that note good luck to the residents of areas surrounding "The tomb of the tickin' time bomb!" and remember...don't go dropping anymore nukes directly over your fresh water supply anymore! instead drop them off at the Jersey Shore and leave them with a true national tresure and all around genius of a human bieng...Snookie! she would know what to do with em', she is our nations pride and joy! ;}

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Anonymous Poster
#6

Re: February 5, 1958: The Tybee Bomb Incident

08/22/2010 2:16 PM

Deep sea oil drilling is safe, too, and an "oil-derrick accident could never happen in the Gulf". Th difference between an accidental oil spill and an accidental nuclear radiation leak is that radiation does not dissipate for millenia. Just ask the people of Ukraine, near Chernobyl. If something can go wrong, it will, eventually.

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