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1958 Tybee Island mid-air collision

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1958 Tybee Island mid-air collision
An Mk 15 nuclear bomb of the type lost when jettisoned after the collision
Midair Collision
DateFebruary 5, 1958
Summary Midair collision
Site Tybee Island, Georgia, U.S.
32°0′N 80°51′W / 32.000°N 80.850°W / 32.000; -80.850
Latitude and Longitude:

32°0′N 80°51′W / 32.000°N 80.850°W / 32.000; -80.850
First aircraft
Type Boeing B-47 Stratojet
Operator United States Air Force
Second aircraft
Type F-86 Sabre
OperatorUnited States Air Force

The Tybee Island mid-air collision was an incident on February 5, 1958, in which the United States Air Force lost a 7,600-pound (3,400 kg) Mark 15 nuclear bomb in the waters off Tybee Island near Savannah, Georgia, United States. During a practice exercise, an F-86 fighter plane collided with the B-47 bomber carrying the bomb. To protect the aircrew from a possible detonation in the event of a crash, the bomb was jettisoned. Following several unsuccessful searches, the bomb was presumed lost somewhere in Wassaw Sound off the shores of Tybee Island.

Midair collision

1958 Tybee Island mid-air collision is located in Georgia (U.S. state)
Crash site
Crash site

The B-47 bomber was on a simulated combat mission from Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. [1] It was carrying a single 7,600-pound (3,400 kg) bomb. At about 2:00 a.m., an F-86 fighter collided with the B-47. The F-86 crashed after the pilot ejected from the plane. The damaged B-47 remained airborne, plummeting 18,000 feet (5,500 m) from 38,000 feet (12,000 m) when Colonel Richardson regained flight control. [2] [3]

The crew requested permission to jettison the bomb, in order to reduce weight and prevent the bomb from exploding during an emergency landing. Permission was granted, and the bomb was jettisoned at 7,200 feet (2,200 m) while the bomber was traveling at about 200 knots (370 km/h). The crew did not see an explosion when the bomb struck the sea. They managed to land the B-47 safely at the nearest base, Hunter Air Force Base. The pilot, Colonel Howard Richardson, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross after this incident. [3]

The bomb

Some sources describe the bomb as a functional nuclear weapon, but others describe it as disabled. If it had a plutonium nuclear core installed, it was a fully functional weapon. If it had a dummy core installed, it was incapable of producing a nuclear explosion but could still produce a conventional explosion. The 12-foot (4 m) long Mark 15 bomb weighs 7,600 pounds (3,400 kg) and bears the serial number 47782. It contains 400 pounds (180 kg) of conventional high explosives and highly enriched uranium. [4] The Air Force maintains that its nuclear capsule, used to initiate the nuclear reaction, was removed before its flight aboard B-47. [5] As noted in the Atomic Energy Commission "Form AL-569 Temporary Custodian Receipt (for maneuvers)", signed by the aircraft commander, the bomb contained a simulated 150-pound cap made of lead. [6] However, according to 1966 Congressional testimony by Assistant Secretary of Defense W.J. Howard, the Tybee Island bomb was a "complete weapon, a bomb with a nuclear capsule" and one of two weapons lost that contained a plutonium trigger. [7] [8] Nevertheless, a study of the Strategic Air Command documents indicates that Alert Force test flights in February 1958 with the older Mark 15 payloads were not authorized to fly with nuclear capsules on board. Such approval was pending deployment of safer "sealed-pit nuclear capsule" weapons, which did not begin deployment until June 1958. [9]

Recovery efforts

Starting on February 6, 1958, the Air Force 2700th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron and 100 Navy personnel equipped with hand-held sonar and galvanic drag and cable sweeps mounted a search. On April 16, the military announced the search had been unsuccessful. Based on a hydrologic survey, the bomb was thought by the Department of Energy to lie buried under 5 to 15 feet (2 to 5 m) of silt at the bottom of Wassaw Sound. [5]

In 2004, retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Derek Duke claimed to have narrowed the possible resting spot of the bomb down to a small area approximately the size of a football field.[ citation needed] He and his partner located the area by trawling in their boat with a Geiger counter in tow. Secondary radioactive particles four times naturally occurring levels were detected and mapped, and the site of radiation origination triangulated. Subsequent investigations found the source of the radiation was natural, originating from monazite deposits. [10]

Ongoing concerns

As of 2007, no undue levels of unnatural radioactive contamination have been detected in the regional Upper Floridan aquifer by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (over and above the already high levels thought to be due to monazite, a locally occurring mineral that is naturally radioactive). [11] [12]

In popular culture

In February 2015, a satirical news site ran an article stating that the bomb was found by vacationing Canadian divers and that the bomb had since been removed from the bay. The fake story spread widely via social media. [13]

The collision and its aftermath also drives the plot of the novel, Three Chords & The Truth, by Craig McDonald published in November 2016.[ citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Mark Natola, ed. (2002). Boeing B-47 Stratojet. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. pp. 77–80. ISBN  0764316702.
  2. ^ Boeing B-47 Stratojet
  3. ^ a b BBC News, Missing for 50 years – US nuclear bomb (June 22, 2009)
  4. ^ "Complete List of All U.S. Nuclear Weapons". Archived from the original on December 16, 2008. Retrieved November 11, 2008.
  5. ^ a b "Air Force Search & Recovery Assessment of the 1958 Savannah,B-47 Accident" (PDF). Air Force Nuclear Weapons and Counterproliferation Agency (PDF). April 12, 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 8, 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2010.
  6. ^ The Nuclear Information Project Archived November 3, 2005, at the Wayback Machine, Form AL-569, "Temporary Custodian Receipt (for maneuvers)," to U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Albuquerque Operations, from James W. Twitty, Col., U.S. Air Force, February 4, 1958. Released under FOIA. (PDF)
  7. ^, When We Almost Nuked Savannah: The Case of the Missing H-Bomb (May 15, 2009) Archived July 3, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ NPR Media, Letter of W.J. Howard, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Atomic Energy), to the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Congress of the United States (April 22, 1966). (PDF) Page 1, Page2.
  9. ^ The Nuclear Information Project, History of the Strategic Air Command January 1, 1958 – June 30, 1958. Released under FOIA. (PDF) Archived July 9, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Lost H-bomb:RIP Archived February 5, 2018, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ America's Lost H Bomb Archived October 30, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Discovery's Science Channel documentary about the Tybee Bomb (2007)
  12. ^ Chatham County Public Works and Park Services, Drinking Water Quality Consumer Confidence Report (2007) Archived August 9, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Georgia Warhead". Snopes. Retrieved May 6, 2015.


External links

  •, Informational site about the Tybee Bomb [NOTE: AS OF 2021-10-21 THIS LINK POINTS TO AN UNCLAIMED DOMAIN]
  • America's Lost H Bomb, Marabella Productions & Discovery's Science Channel documentary about the Tybee Bomb (2007)
  • NPR, For 50 Years, Nuclear Bomb Lost in Watery Grave (February 3, 2008)
  • BBC News, Missing for 50 years – US nuclear bomb (June 22, 2009)
  • The Nuclear Information Project, Nuclear Bomb Dropped in Georgia; No Nuclear Capsule Inserted, Documents Show (2004)
  •, Chart of nuclear bombs, including the Mark 15
  • Chasing Loose Nukes by Col. Derek Duke (as told to Fred Dungan)
  • Broken Arrow, BBC audio programme on the Tybee Bomb, streaming audio