59 years ago today, a B-47 bomber took off from the Homestead Air Force Base in Florida with a 7,600-pound (3,400 kg) atomic bomb on board. It was on a simulated combat mission. At 2 AM in the morning, an F-86 fighter plane collided with the B-47 bomber.
Due to the collision, the F-86 crashed after some distance with the pilot thankfully ejecting out from the plane. The B-47 bomber however, remained airborne and plummeted 18,000 feet from its original 38,000 feet height. That was when the pilot Major Richardson regained control again.
It was obvious that the plane had to do an emergency landing. The question was what to do with the Nuke on-board?! It was decided that the plane will jettison the bomb in the ocean and then land at the nearest Hunter Air Force Base.
The crew dropped the bomb while the plane was at 7200 feet and flying at 370 km/hr! Thankfully there was no explosion when the bomb hit the sea. The place where it was lost is around the Wassaw Sound off the shores of Tybee Island.
Since that day, it has been 59 years now but that bomb was never found.
To understand the danger of what could have happened, remember that the Little Boy on Hiroshima was 9,700 pounds with 64 kgs of enriched Uranium in it.
Although there has been some controversy about whether this was a real and full bomb or not. In the 1966 Congressional testimony by then Assistant Secretary of Defense W.J. Howard said that it was a “complete weapon, a bomb with a nuclear capsule.”
The Savannah coast has seen the populations go on with life. But the issues of safety have always remained.
At Kingston’s urging, the Air Force checked its original records on the bomb and concluded Howard was wrong.
“The bomb off the coast of Savannah is not capable of a nuclear explosion,” said Maj. Cheryl Law, an Air Force spokeswoman. As for the uranium still inside the bomb, “to have that hurt you, you would actually have to ingest it.”
People also say that if the bomb did explode now, the impact may not be much. After all the bomb is probably 5 miles off the coast and also under 20 feet of water and 15 feet of sand and silt.
If it exploded, the bomb “would create maybe a 10-foot-diameter hole and shock waves through the water of approximately 100 yards,” Robbins said. “Even boats going over it would not even notice. They might see some bubbles coming out around them.”
Bottomline, it may not be a big deal now because of where the bomb is. But if it had exploded in the air with the collision, the damage probably would have been really bad for everyone.