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Air Force researches bomb dropped off Tybee Island

U.S. Air Force Major Donald Robbins, deputy director of the U.S. Air Force Nuclear Weapons and Counter Proliferation Agency, speaks at a press conference held at Hunter Army Air Field about the training bomb that was jettisoned from an aircraft over Wassaw Sound decades ago. photo by John Carrington

--John Carrington/Savannah Morning News

After nearly 50 years, officials don't plan to make a quick decision on what to do with it.

Noelle Phillips
Savannah Morning News

Maj. Donald Robbins, deputy director of the Air Force's Nuclear Weapons and Counter Proliferation Agency, stood before a Black Hawk helicopter assuring the media that a bomb dropped off Tybee Island was not nuclear capable.

His agency is in charge of safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear stockpile. The bomb in question was accidentally dropped in Wassaw Sound nearly 50 years ago.

Even so, Robbins said the Air Force came to Savannah Wednesday to research the bomb's possible whereabouts. He and his staff met with oceanographers, geologists and engineers from other government agencies to learn about the personality of the Atlantic Ocean floor.

It's a trip made in large part to answer questions from the public and U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga.

"We are concerned with safety and want to assure them it's a safe condition," Robbins said.

The Air Force maintains the bomb was not nuclear capable when a pilot jettisoned it from his airplane off the coast of Tybee in 1958. The bomber collided with a fighter jet on a training mission and had to ditch the weapon to safely land.

Because it was a training mission, the bomber would not have been loaded with an active nuclear weapon, Robbins said.

Finding the bomb would be a tough chore. The Navy, Air Force and other services unsuccessfully searched 11 weeks after it was dropped. And the ocean floor changes constantly off Savannah's coast.

Col. Joseph Schmitt, commander of the Savannah District Army Corps of Engineers, used Tybee Island's beach to illustrate the changes. This year, the Corps of Engineers finished a $9.5 million project to add more sand to the beaches.

"Just think how fast that sand moves," Schmitt said.

Military reporter Noelle Phillips can be reached at 652-0366 or at phillips@savannahnow.com.

 

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Revised: September 08, 2003 .