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Savannah Morning News Article
Web posted Tuesday, November 7, 2000
 
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Air Force checking out story of bomb dropped off Tybee

By Noelle Phillips
Savannah Morning News

The Air Force insists an old bomb dropped off the coast of Tybee Island in 1958 is not a nuclear threat.

Still, it's sending representatives to Savannah Wednesday to meet about the old ordnance.

The airmen will be from the Air Force's Nuclear Weapons and Counter Proliferation Agency, said Maj. Cheryl Law, a public affairs officer who also will make the trip. Once in Savannah, the group will fly in a Black Hawk helicopter over Wassaw Sound and then meet with people from the Army Corps of Engineers, departments of Energy and Interior and Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

"It's just to gather facts about the weapon," Law said.

The meeting at the Army Corps of Engineers downtown building is closed to the public.

The Air Force maintains that documents prove the weapon does not contain radioactive material since it was not a fully loaded bomb, Law said. However, it once held 400 pounds of TNT to detonate the weapon, she said.

The Air Force is looking into the weapon since U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., requested an investigation. U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga. also asked Secretary of Defense William Cohen to look into it.

A B-47 bomber jettisoned the weapon over Wassaw Sound in February 1958 after it collided with an F-86 fighter jet during a training exercise. Military officials gave the bomber pilot permission to drop the weapon after he could not safely land the plane with it on board.

Navy, Air Force and Army crews searched for the bomb for 11 weeks but never found it. Arthur Arsenault, a retired Navy officer who oversaw the search, said the task was difficult.

"They changed the point of impact every couple of weeks on us, which made it difficult," Arsenault said.

It was 2 a.m. when the pilot dropped it, and he didn't have an exact location over the water. On top of that, the cold water made search conditions tough and search technology was limited.

"Frankly, we spent most of our time looking for a hole," he said.

Today, the search could be equally as tough if the Air Force decides to hunt for the bomb. Factors that could affect the bomb's location are whether it stayed in one piece, the depth of water where it was dropped, and the altitude the pilot was flying when he released it.

Clark Alexander, an associate professor at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, said the ocean floor constantly changes because of strong tidal currents. If the bomb is intact, it could be covered in sand.

"There's been plenty of sand movement over the last 40 years," Alexander said.

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

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