A Day the U.S. Nuked Itself
On February 5th, 1958, the United States Air Force accidentally dropped a Mark 15 hydrogen bomb on the unsuspecting city of Savannah, Georgia. This nuclear explosive, now lost somewhere along the coastline of the aforementioned metropolitan area, is still considered live.
"What the hell?!" you scream. "How come we didn't hear about this?!"
Well, the bomb in question never detonated. Not yet, anyway.
For some odd reason, during the Cold War, the U.S. government felt that constantly flying live nuclear weapons above its citizens, under a directive known as Operation Chrome Dome, would somehow make these people more safe. At its pinnacle, this military initiative was comprised of twelve B-52s aloft at all times, with a bomber being refueled in the air every six minutes.
Talk about a recipe for disaster! It's like pumpin' an out-of-shape Paula Deen full of cocaine and laxatives, throwin' her in a kitchen with greased floors, and wonderin' if she'll encounter any problems.
February 5th, 1958 was a fun day for USAF pilot Howard Richardson. Whilst flying an Operation Chrome Dome mission that found the captain, his B-47 crew and four F-86 Sabres transporting a Mark 15 hydrogen bomb, something went terribly wrong. One of the escorting fighters broke formation, crashing into the right wing of the Stratojet. As a result, an outer engine of the bomber dangled precariously, no longer operational.
Richardson assessed the aircraft, as heavy as it was, couldn't remain aloft. The pilot's only recourse was to lighten the load.
Since the thermonuclear weapon the B-47 was carrying weighed approximately 7,600 pounds, it was first to go. Richardson, under the perception the explosive was unarmed, jettisoned the bomb over what he believed was the Atlantic Ocean. Although Howard's intentions were good, the nuclear device ended up dropping into the shallow water of Wassaw Sound, along the coastline of Savannah, Georgia.
But wait. This just gets better! Turns out the device, which currently remains lost along the Peach State shore, might still be armed.
"Kids, grab your trunks! Time for a swim!"
Were the bomb to detonate, the city of Savannah would be annihilated by an explosion the equivalent of 3.8 billion pounds of dynamite. Compare that to the paltry 40 million pounds of TNT discharged by the Fat Man blast at Nagasaki, Japan, in which 40,000 to 75,000 people were killed instantly.
Although the military attempted to recover the Savannah device, they were unsuccessful. Six weeks was all the U.S. devoted to the search for the missing weapon. Eventually, the government concluded they could simply buy a new bomb for less than they were spending in pursuit of the old one.
So, when plannin' a family vacation, consider takin' the tribe to Savannah, Georgia, where the state motto should be, "Come on in. The water's fine!"
© 2010. Hugh Mungus
Nuclear Rescue 911: Broken Arrows & Incidents. Dir. Peter Kuran. Perfs. Adam West. DVD, 2001. ISBN 1-58565-922-3