Tybee Bomb is lost by the US Air Force, February 5, 1958
Colonel Howard Richardson was piloting the B-47 bomber carrying the bomb on a US Air Force simulated combat mission that morning. After the practice mission was completed, and as the bomber was headed back to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, it collided in midair with an F-86 fighter plane on a separate training mission.
Both aircraft were significantly damaged and the F-86 pilot, Lieutenant Clarence Stewart, had to eject, parachuting into a swamp in South Carolina. The B-47 remained airborne and prepared for an emergency landing in Savannah. Richardson decided to jettison the bomb to reduce weight and prevent explosion during landing. The bomb was dropped at 7,200 feet while the bomber was traveling about 200 knots. When the bomb struck the sea, no explosion was seen. The B-47 safely landed at the nearby Hunter Air Force Base. Richardson received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions.
The B-47 bomber crew: Howard Richardson, Bob Lagerstrom and Leland Woolard (l-r)
The Mark 15 was "safed," meaning the plutonium core had been removed so it was not a live nuclear weapon, but it did contain 400 pounds of conventional explosives.
A recovery effort began on February 6, 1958, for what is now known as the Tybee Bomb. 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, 1958, the military announced that the search efforts had been unsuccessful.
Based upon a hydrologic survey by the Department of Energy, the bomb was thought to lie buried under 5 to 15 feet of silt at the bottom of Wassaw Sound. The Tybee Bomb remaining buried would be a positive thing because if the bomb’s alloy casing were exposed to seawater by the shifting strata in which it is presumed to be buried, rapid corrosion could occur. That would allow the highly enriched uranium to leach out of the device and enter the aquifer that surrounds the continental shelf in this area. The Air Force has since taken renewed interest in locating the bomb, but with no luck.
Several documentaries have been made about the Tybee Bomb, including the 1996 film “Lost Bombs” by Mickey Youmans. Talk show host Geraldo Rivera offered Youmans $150,000 to help him locate the bomb but Youmans turned down the offer, not convinced he would be able to locate it.
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Editor's note: This article was originally posted on February 5, 2013 and edited on February 5, 2018.