HUNT FOR UNARMED H-BOMB

By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

Washington (AFPN) — 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.

Air Force officials said there has never been a danger of a nuclear explosion from the weapon because the bomb has no arming capsule.

The 20-person 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 Lt. Col. Derek Duke believes the bomb may have landed.

The Air Force lost the bomb following a midair collision between a B-47 Stratojet and an F-86 Sabre. 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 Wassaw Sound near Tybee Island.

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, Air Force officials listed the bomb as “irretrievable.”

For the last five years, Colonel 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 went to Savannah, Ga., and met with Colonel Duke and his team.

Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Frank Smolinsky said the talks were constructive and that Colonel Duke’s 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 where Colonel Duke believes the weapon may lie and took water and soil samples. The samples will go to national laboratories for testing. Colonel Smolinsky said he could not say when testing will end, “but it will be several weeks at a minimum.”

If tests determine the bomb may be in the area, Air Force officials will consult with local, state and federal officials, before deciding 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, officials said.