Nuclear weapons have existed in the world for more than seventy years. Currently there are about 12,000 warheads under the control of less than a dozen countries, although in times of the Cold War the number of these atomic devices rose to 70,000, according to ICAN.
In any case, no country is supposed to lose sight of part of its nuclear arsenal, much less lose a warhead, but reality often surprises us. The United States has lost at least three nuclear bombs, one of them in a secret operation.
A bomb lost on Tybee Island
According to NPR, the surprising event occurred on February 5, 1958. At that time, the United States Air Force carried out secret training that aimed to simulate attacks against the Soviet Union with Boeing B-47 Stratojet bombers.
On the night of that day, a Mark 15 thermonuclear bomb was loaded onto one of the two bombers that would participate in the test. It had been planned to replace Moscow with the American city of Radford, Virginia, but not to carry out any type of launch in the area.
The main idea of this training was to test the ability of all attack components to fly with heavy weapons for several hours. In principle, everything went as expected, but when the planes were flying back to the base they encountered something unforeseen.
Another training session was taking place in the area where the B-47 was flying and a North American F-86 Saber fighter jet grazed the B-47 in the air. Clarence Stewart, the pilot of the smaller plane, managed to eject in time, but the bomber remained airborne.
After the incident, it was evident that the B-47 would not be able to fly much longer as its fuel tanks they had been damaged. Howard Richardson, the bomber’s commander, did not want to attempt an emergency landing with an atomic bomb, so he got rid of it.
Before landing, Richardson received permission to release the device off the coast of Tybee Island in Georgia (USA). Although it fell from a high height, the bomb did not explode. NPR defense specialist Guy Raz says this may be because the bomb was not complete.
The truth is that there is no consensus on whether the Mark 15 device involved in the incident contained radioactive material. The Air Force initially said that the bombs from the tests They did not allow an “active capsule”, but a document declassified in 1994 indicated the opposite.
This is a testimony from Deputy Secretary of Defense WJ Howard from 1966 in which he mentioned three “complete bombs” that the United States had lost. The bomb from the 1958 Tybee Island incident was included there, so it is not clear if it really represents a danger.
The day after the F-86 Saber was destroyed and the B-47 made an emergency landing, the Air Force enabled a 100 member special squad to search for the missing bomb. The efforts lasted 10 weeks, but produced no success.
Years later, in 2004, a private search operation led by a retired lieutenant was launched and radiation levels in the water were measured. The search also yielded no results, but they discovered that part of the area had “higher” radiation levels.
The Air Force became involved again and, after its studies, it was determined that the radiation levels that had been classified as elevated were actually the result of the natural monazite deposits. Years have passed and the Mark 15 bomb is still missing.
The Navy says that if the bomb is still intact, the risk is low. “An intact explosive would pose a serious explosion hazard to personnel and the environment if disturbed by a recovery attempt.” The recommendation, as we can see, is to leave the bomb wherever it is.
Imágenes: Sgt. Michael Haggerty | Douglas Keeney Collections | James St. John
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