Georgia: Amateur Divers Find Long-Lost Nuclear Warhead

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Savannah| A couple of tourists from Canada made a surprising discovery while scuba diving  in Wassaw Sound, a small bay  located on the shores of Georgia. Jason Sutter and Christina Murray were admiring the marine life of the area when they stumbled upon a Mark 15 thermonuclear bomb that had been lost by the United States Air Force more than 50 years ago.

The couple from London in Ontario, was on a two week vacation in Georgia and Florida to practise their favorite hobby, scuba diving, when they decided to dive near  the shores of Tybee Island. While admiring the plants and fishes near the sea floor, they noticed a large cylindrical item partially covered by sand. They investigated the object and found out that it was actually a sort of bomb or missile, so they decided to contact the authorities.

“I noticed an object that looked like a metal cylinder, which I thought was an oil barrel” says Jason Sutter. “When I dug it up a bit, I noticed that it was actually a lot bigger and that there was some writing on the side. When I saw the inscription saying that it was a Mk-15 nuclear bomb, I totally freaked out. I caught Chritina by the arm and made signs to tell her we had to leave. We made an emergency ascent, went back to shore and then we called 911.”

The couple is still shocked after their frightening discovery and say they will avoid diving for the rest of their trip.

The couple is still shocked after their frightening discovery and say they will avoid diving for the rest of their trip.

Rapidly understanding the gravity of the situation, the 911 operator contacted every possible emergency service, including the coast guard and the military, leading to the deployment of more than 20 ships and 1500 men in the area. Using the GPS coordinates given by the couple, they rapidly located the powerful 3.8 megaton bomb.

An unmanned submarine was sent to determine the condition of the bomb, before explosive experts were sent to disarm it. Fortunately, the thermonuclear weapon produced in 1955 seemed in sufficiently good shape for a team of Navy seals  to try to defuse it. They successfully deactivated the warhead after hours of strenuous work, allowing the rest of the bomb to be moved.

The delicate recovery operation took more than 48 hours, but the bomb was finally recovered and transported Mayport Naval Station in Florida. A full set of tests and analysis will now be performed on the warhead to evaluate its actual state and the possible ecological and health hazard that its presence in the bay for 50 years could represent.

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Navy explosive ordnance Disposal technicians spent nearly five hours working on the warhead before they were able to extract the detonator and the uranium core of the weapon, allowing the fuselage to be moved.

The federal and state authorities were well-aware that a nuclear warhead had been lost in the area in the 1950’s and had never been recovered, but no efforts had been done for years to recover it. It was lost on the night of February 5, 1958, when a B-47 Stratojet bomber carrying the 7,600-pound hydrogen bomb on a  simulated combat mission off the coast of Georgia collided with an F-86 Saberjet fighter at 36,000 feet of altitude. The collision destroyed the fighter and severely damaged a wing of the bomber, leaving one of its engines partially dislodged.

The bomber’s pilot, Maj. Howard Richardson, was instructed by the Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. to jettison the H-bomb before attempting a landing. Richardson dropped the bomb into the shallow waters of Wassaw Sound, near the mouth of the Savannah River, where he believed the bomb would be swiftly recovered.  The crew did not see an explosion when the bomb struck the sea and they managed to land the B-47 safely at the nearest base.

For the following six weeks, the Air Force looked for the bomb without success. Underwater divers scoured the depths, troops tromped through nearby salt marshes, and a blimp hovered over the area attempting to spot a hole or crater in the beach or swamp. Researches were finally abandoned and the bomb remained hidden for more than 50 years until the unlucky couple stumbled upon it.

22 Comments on "Georgia: Amateur Divers Find Long-Lost Nuclear Warhead"

    • Just think of the poor scuba couple who found it, read the printing on the side and promptly had a scuba laundry problem

  1. Kevin Faircloth | February 16, 2015 at 4:47 pm | Reply

    Congratulations to the amateur divers and the authorities on the removal of Tybee Island H-Bomb. In congratulatory humor, maybe now my Tybee condo will increase its value by 10%!

  2. If it was jettisoned then it wasn’t armed in the first place. No need to disarm an inherently safe weapon… Although 3.8 megatons is one hell of a boom. Good job on them for finding it though.

    • Speculation Joe If the team defused it , logic suggests it was armed

    • No such thing as “inherently safe” in 1955 designed nuclear weapons. That term came into use MUCH later. They removed the uranium core. Which doesn’t like water. And the core firing train, which an errant signal in today’s EMR field may be enough to fire. EMR shielding wasn’t as popular in the early ’50’s either.

    • Shawn C. Madden | February 19, 2015 at 3:18 am |

      It was not armed for high yield (nuclear) but it had plenty of HE that is used to detonate the nuclear warhead. Still had to be defused.

    • they basically had to remove the firing pin. The thing wasn’t active or it would have gone off when it was dropped and that B-47 would have never had the time to get out of the way of the blast at only 36,000 feet either. they weren’t that fast

    • The nuclear device would never be armed without the “Go-code” from the President which would be basically declaring nuclear war. But even so there is a slight possibility that some normal explosive material might be detonated by impact which would spread nuclear material with resultant radiation.

      Nuclear weapons are always maintained in the “safe” configuration so the statement that the weapon was rendered “safe” must only refer to making the normal explosive material impossible to be detonated. Some explosive material could be used in the basic fission portion of the weapon which is used to create the temperatures necessary to produce the fusion detonation.

    • On a training or ferry mission, the bomb is never in a condition that will allow a nuclear yield. Even if dropped the fusing and firing sequence cannot be started and will result in a nuclear dud and not even an explosion is likely. Testing has dropped them, subjected them to force, fire and outside explosions. None of these resulted in a nuclear yield. If the bomb is somehow broken apart to get to the core, then radioactivity will be present but contained in a very small area. There was no danger of that since the bomb was intact. And bottom line, the jettison sequence totally bypasses the arming sequence. Not going to go “Boom”.

    • Joseph Shaffer II | March 2, 2015 at 11:37 pm |

      While the design is inherently safe, and “disarm” may not be “required”, taking all actions necessary to ensure no safety features were in any way surpassed or violated, is still the safest approach, no matter how it is referenced in the press, and while many are not familiar with “safety in design” principles and features, nearly all people relate knowingly to the term “disarmed”.

    • Ed Meadows | March 3, 2015 at 5:54 am |

      Joe consider if you were a diver assigned to recover the bomb. Wouldn’t you rather the bomb be disarmed than not? Even if was never armed?

    • There wouldn’t have been a nuclear detonation but the conventional explosives inside still could have been accidentally detonated. The stability of those was probably questionable after that much time underwater or just simply due to age. That would result in a rather nasty dirty bomb. Good luck cleaning that up.

  3. How spooky! I can just imagine how the couple reacted. Sounds like material for another good Clive Cussler book!

  4. Actually not Navy EOD. Ever wondered what BUD/S training to be a SEAL stands for? Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL.

    • Shawn C. Madden | February 19, 2015 at 3:19 am |

      No, had to be Navy EOD. Big difference between ‘demolition’ and ‘rendering safe.’ Navy EOD is dive qualified.

    • Doug Robinson | February 24, 2015 at 2:47 am |

      Yes it was Navy EOD. The use of “Seals” in the article is just another example of news media people trying to be smart and showing their ignorance. There may be some Seals that are EOD qualified, but this was not a Seal job. It was a Navy EOD function. They are dive trained and trained to “render safe” unexploded ordinance. Don’t get hung up on the words dearm and defuse. Most people don’t know the difference. Don’t mean to put anyone down but I’ve ben there and done that as a 1970 graduate of the US Navy EOD School at Indian Head, Md.

    • steve kosier | February 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm |

      SEALs never did it , it was navy EOD. It was a misprint that. SEALs were not even on site. That is not their job

    • THE E.O.D. IS TRAINED FOR THIS JOB AND I AM SURE THAT WHO TOOK CARE OF THIS INCIDENT. EOD=EXPLOSIVE ORDENENCE DEMOLITION. NOT SURE ABOUT SPELLING ON ORDANENCE

    • Couple of things, It stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal, and Ordnance is not spelled “Ordenence” or “Ordinance.” Ordinance is a law code.

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