This story courtesy of JR
Roseberry of The Tybee News.
By J. R. Roseberry
The Tybee News
The leader of an organization dedicated to finding a nuclear bomb dropped by an Air Force B-47 bomber in shallow water near Tybee following a midair collision almost a half century ago says recovery of the bomb is even more critical now because of the current threat from terrorists.
Derek Duke, a Statesboro flight instructor and former Air Force pilot who heads the American Sea Shore Recovery Expedition (ASSURE), said in the wrong hands the missing bomb could easily be detonated with "unbelievable consequences for the entire East Coast of the U.S."
"ASSURE views the threat of a domestic or international terrorist detonating this bomb as very real" and if such an explosion occurred "certainly Tybee Island, Hilton Head and Savannah would be changed for our life time," he said.
Duke claims--and has U.S. Defense Department documentation to support his position--that the M-15 type hydrogen bomb jettisoned over Wassaw Sound in 1958 after colliding with an Air Force F-86 Saberjet fighter during a night time training mission was fully armed with the triggering device needed to activate the weapon.
While the Air Force has said the bomb was not armed with a trigger capsule, Howard H. Dixon, the former Air Force crew chief in charge of loading nuclear bombs on planes at Hunter AFB for such missions at that time, told Tybee officials during a public hearing last year that no such weapon was ever loaded without the triggering mechanism. Duke said Dixon still holds a key job in the government's nuclear weapons program.
Duke now insists the 8,000 pound bomb places the area is in imminent danger whether or not in contains the trigger because the Air Force has admitted that even without it the weapon contains 400 pounds of TNT and 500 pounds of radioactive, weapons-grade uranium, which combination "could be exploded by anyone who found the weapon."
In a report prepared at the request of U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston which was released last summer, the Air Force said if the bomb is disturbed it could explode, endangering the Floridan Aquifer from which Tybee and much of southeast Georgia and the northeast portion of Florida get their drinking water.
Air Force officials contend what is now known as the "Tybee Bomb" should be left alone. They say it poses little or no danger if left where it fell...buried 5 to 15 feet below the shallow waters of the sound...and claim it would require millions of dollars and years of searching to locate the weapon.
Duke's group alleges the Air Force intentionally overestimated both the cost and difficulty of locating the bomb, given the sophisticated electronic devices now available.
And Kingston has not only "acknowledged my own and our ASSURE team as experts on the Tybee Bomb" but "he has not closed the book on the missing bomb issue," Duke said, adding that Kingston took this position after news stories about the missing bomb carried by the BBC and the London Times in England; newspaper articles in Australia and domestic television broadcasts following the release of the Air Force report.
A leading television station in Jacksonville, Fla., sent a team to Tybee just before Christmas to produce a special report on the Tybee Bomb. That report featured interviews with Kingston as well as Col. (Ret.) Jamie Hendrix, a retired war hero and well known island resident, and Mayor Walter Parker.
Both Hendrix and Parker said the government should locate the missing bomb and, if it poses any danger whatsoever, remove and dispose of it. This is the same position Tybee's City Council took in a resolution approved following a public hearing on the issue last year.
Duke says finding and removing the bomb is more critical than ever now because of the threat of terrorist activity which was graphically exhibited by the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the latter by "a jet that had targeted the nearby White House but missed."
Prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, his group--which includes Bert Soleau, a chemist and former CIA agent--"purposely withheld exact information and toned down our statements as to specific and great danger from this bomb, whether armed with a triggering capsule or not," he said.
ASSURE discussed both international and domestic threats "internally" at the time but considered such threats remote, which is no longer the case, he said, noting:
"The Tybee Bomb is very findable due to its nearness to the beach in very shallow water."
Duke said the U.S. Navy commander in charge of the futile search for the bomb just after it was jettisoned "knows ASSURE now has the technology to do a search with a great chance of success" and has confirmed his earlier effort "was not really a search at all for a bomb buried in the shallow coastal sand," despite the involvement of hundreds of military personnel and dozens of water craft.
"They utilized no sub bottom search in 1958 for this bomb they knew had buried in the sand and mud on impact...therefore, there was no chance for success," Duke said. "Believe it or not the Air Force instructed the search divers to 'look for a hole in the bottom of the ocean'!"
The fact that the Air Force report stated the "lost bomb is buried in very shallow coastal water in only a few feet of sand and is probably still completely intact," is particularly disturbing, he said, noting:
"This bomb could be in mint condition...still ready to do its design purpose...a hydrogen bomb explosion of mind boggling power.
"The citizens and officials of federal, state and local government have allowed the Air Force to ignore their responsibility to our welfare too long. The Tybee Island City Council resolution of February, 2001 is exactly right. This bomb needs to be found and assessed for proper resolution of this continuing threat to our lives."
On reflection, however, he admitted: "It will take great public pressure to get the Air Force to act."