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Interagency Team Checking for H-Bomb Lost in 1958

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2004 – A team of experts is looking into whether a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel may have located a hydrogen bomb missing off the coast of Georgia since 1958.

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A hydrogen bomb was believed to have been lost after being jettisoned from a B-47 Stratojet such as the one pictured here. The weapon was reported dropped in the waters of Wassaw Sound near Tybee Island, Ga., in 1958.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The 20-man team came from the Air Force, Navy, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, national laboratories and Department of Energy. The team took water and soil samples at the site where retired Air Force Lt. Col. Derek Duke believes the bomb may have landed.

The Air Force lost the bomb following a mid-air collision between a B-47 Stratojet and an F-86 Sabre off the coast of Georgia. The bomber was severely damaged and the pilot was worried that if he tried to land with the bomb aboard, the 400 pounds of conventional explosives aboard might detonate. He requested permission to jettison the bomb. Controllers gave the pilot permission and he dropped the weapon in the waters of Wassaw Sound near Tybee Island.

The water of the sound is shallow and the 7,500-pound weapon may have burrowed as much as 15-feet into the mud. After 10 weeks of searching, the Air Force listed the bomb as "irretrievable."

For the last five years, Duke has been searching the sound for the weapon. He detected unusual radiation readings in an area and notified authorities. On Sept. 29, the interagency team journeyed to Savannah, Ga., and met with Duke and his team.

Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Frank Smolinski said the talks were constructive and that the Duke team shared all the information and the way it had gathered the information with the interagency team.

On Sept. 30, the team took four boats out to the area that Duke believes the weapon may lie and took water and soil samples. The sample will go to the national laboratories for testing. Smolinski said he could not hazard a guess when the testing will end, "but it will be several weeks at a minimum."

If the tests determine that the bomb may be in the area, then the Air Force, in consultation with local, state and federal officials will decide what to do next. There is no danger of a nuclear detonation, but the conventional explosives that are a part of the bomb may be unstable.

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