Gallery A

Tybee Island
page 2
Page 1

There is a Missing A-Bomb Off the Georgia Coast

By James Donahue

There is a scary story about a missing nucular bomb that has been lying in shallow water, just off Savannah, Georgia, since it was dropped there in February, 1958.

It seems that a B-47 bomber was carrying this bomb on a training mission when it collided with a fighter jet. The bomber was severely damaged, but still flying. To assure a better chance at a safe landing, the crew elected to drop the bomb somewhere near the Tybee islands. Without its plutonium-filled warhead attached, the bomb did not explode. The military spent a few weeks searching for that deadly piece of hardware, but then gave up.

The 12-foot-long, 7,600-pound device has been lying out there ever since, a deadly pile of rusting debris filled with uranium and explosives that may someday raise havoc with the local real estate if something is not done.

While some of the older natives in the Savannah area recall the incident, the story fell among the many interesting legends of the area until recently, when former Air Force pilot Derek Duke researched the incident and began publicly calling for a new search.

Duke believes the radioactive uranium containing the explosive power of 400 pounds of TNT should be found and removed before the bomb either explodes or releases its contents on the local environment.

"It needs to be found so it moves from the dark, scary realm of lost and unknown and we know where and how it is," Duke said in an AP report.

The Air Force isn't in a rush to locate the bomb, however. Military officials insist the device is no danger, even to the nearby beach community of about 4,000 people now living on Tybee Island. And they are reluctant to spend an estimated $1 million needed to locate and recover it.
"The bomb off the coast of Savannah is not capable of a nuclear explosion," Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Cheryl Law told the Associated Press. Law said that even the uranium still inside the bomb would not be dangerous if released in the water. "To have that hurt you, you would actually have to ingest it," she was quoted as saying.

Why do I find Major Law's remarks so disconcerting? Is it because we have been lied to before by our military? Can we convince all of the military men who fought in the recent conflict in Yugoslavia, now dying of various forms of cancer, that the used uranium enhanced bombs our Air Force exploded there were as harmless as they were originally told? Have we convinced the Gulf War Syndrome victims that the chemicals they were exposed to in that conflict did not cause their illness? And how about the Vietnam veterans whose lives were ruined because of their exposure to Agent Orange? Don't we recall how our military insisted that the chemical we used to destroy the foliage in that jungle area was perfectly safe? And how about the GI's who died of various illnesses after they were purposefully exposed to radioactive fallout during A-bomb testing during World War II?

What is even more frightening about the lost bomb at Tybee Island is that Duke uncovered a letter written in 1966 by W. J. Howard, then assistant to the secretary of defense, to the chairman of the congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy.

Howard's letter listed four nuclear weapons that had been lost and never recovered at that time. Two of these weapons were described as "weapons-less capsules" and incapable of causing a nuclear blast. The Tybee Island bomb, however, was not one of them. This bomb, and a second one lost in the deep Western Pacific in 1965, were described by Howard as "complete" weapons.

While the military appears complacent about the dangers of this bomb, Duke has been alarmed enough to devote two years of personal research. He has even proposed using a team of former military experts and sonar scanning devices to conduct his own private search.

With some financial help, (certainly less than $1 million) Duke might just succeed in locating the bomb, even if it is buried under several feet of silt. Modern sonar equipment, which can be attached to the sides of small pleasure craft, is being used to locate sunken ships, aircraft and a variety of other long lost treasures on the floors of lakes and oceans all over the world. Other technology exists that can find buried metallic objects. It would take time and a careful mapping of the ocean floor so that every square foot of the area is scanned. But a small private group, if given enough financial backing, might just succeed in finding the lost Tybee bomb.

The fact that small, private exploratory teams might succeed in locating such a device, ought to make the FBI, the NSA, the CIA and any other government agency devoted to protecting the United States against terrorist attack, sit up and take notice. Why have we been so complacent about a nuclear bomb lost in something like 20 feet of water on our Atlantic coast for more than 40 years?

While we are publicly going to great lengths to prevent Iraq from developing so-called "weapons of mass destruction," we have carelessly written off one of our nuclear bombs, lost in shallow water off our Atlantic coast. What would prevent terrorist groups, equipped with sophisticated search equipment, from finding that bomb before Duke does? And who is to say that the bomb hasn't already been recovered?

If the bomb is as dangerous as Howard's letter implies, Duke should be heard on this matter. An attempt to recover that old relic, even if only to assure ourselves that it is still out there, might be money well spent.