It was February 1958 when a B-47 bomber on routine maneuvers was hit from behind by an F-86 fighter jet. The bomber was crippled and dumped its four-ton nuclear bomb into the waters off Savannah.
Military search teams never found the bomb. And for four decades it sat out there somewhere, mostly forgotten, until documents that were later declassified renewed fears it could still be a threat after all.
"We were horrified because some of that information has been covered up for years," said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga.
Air Force officials have always maintained that the bomb had no nuclear capsule and some of the declassified papers supported that position. But a 1966 memo from a then-assistant secretary of Defense described the bomb as a "complete weapon, a bomb with a nuclear capsule."
"We know there is something off the coast of Savannah. We know there is a nuclear weapon of some sort," said historian Doug Kenney.
Congressman Kingston demanded a new Air Force investigation, and Air Force officials assured him Wednesday that the bomb had no nuclear capsule and currently poses no threat, though its metal casing contains some radioactive uranium and the explosive power of 400 pounds of TNT.
The Air Force concluded that the uranium poses few risks and that the explosives in the bomb are not hazardous if left undisturbed, but would pose a serious threat to anyone trying to recover the bomb. For safety's sake, they say the weapon should be left at the bottom of the sea.
The Air Force also decided a search would be expensive and time-consuming, taking up to five years and $11.4 million.
"We've looked into this particular issue from all angles and we're very comfortable," said Maj. Gen. Judd Blaisdell.
Kingston now says he's satisfied. But residents of neighboring Tybee Island are not so sure.
"I want a full investigation," said Tybee Island Mayor Walter Parker.
What was lost has never been found. For some here, that includes complete peace of mind.
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