Monday, February 05, 2007

February 5

It was 49 years ago today that a 7600-pound hydrogen bomb was lost in the waters near the coast of Savannah, Georgia. The bomb was being carried by a B-47 aircraft when it collided with an F-86 fighter at 37,000 feet on February 5, 1958; the bomber was damaged in the collision but was still able to fly. When the craft was unable to reduce its airspeed enough to ensure a safe landing, its crew was instructed to release the nuclear payload near Tybee Island, which was inhabited at the time by 3500 people. For several days after the incident, the Air Force refused to acknowledge that it had dropped anything into Georgia’s coastal waters. When the accident was disclosed more fully, the Air Force continued for decades to insist that it was merely a “simulated” hydrogen bomb that had been lost. In 2000, however, a retired Air Force pilot discovered a declassified document from the mid-1960s that listed the so-called “Tybee bomb” as a complete, functioning weapon.

In spite of its denials, the Air Force was quite eager to find the weapon after the incident in February 1958. Unfortunately, two months of searching the area around Tybee Island turned up no clues as to the whereabouts of the bomb. On 16 April 1958, the weapon was declared “irretrievably lost.” It remains somewhere in Wassaw Sound, quite likely interred in 20 feet or more of soft mud. The Tybee bomb is one of four nuclear weapons that have gone missing from the American arsenal since 1945.


On 5 February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations Security Council to present the United States’ case for disarming Saddam Hussein. Among the many fabulous details conveyed by the general that day, Powell warned that
our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets.

Even the low end of 100 tons of agent would enable Saddam Hussein to cause mass casualties across more than 100 square miles of territory, an area nearly 5 times the size of Manhattan.

Let me remind you that, of the 122 millimeter chemical warheads that the U.N. inspectors found recently, this discovery could very well be, as has been noted, the tip of the submerged iceberg. The question before us, all my friends, is when will we see the rest of the submerged iceberg?
Powell has since described the speech as a "blot" on his record and the "lowest point in my life."