Amateur Divers Find Long-Lost Nuclear Warhead – Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
Amateur scuba divers found a nuclear warhead in Wassaw Sound off the coast of Georgia.
Amateur divers did not find a nuclear bomb off the coast of Georgia, but this eRumor is based on real events.
The eRumor surfaced after the fake news website World News Daily Report ran a story that claimed tourists from Canada had found a Mark 15 thermonuclear bomb that had been lost by the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s:
“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 fake story duped many readers, and it was shared more than 25,000 times on social media. But World News Daily Report isn’t a trustworthy news source. The website’s disclaimer says that it assumes “all responsibility for the satirical nature of its articles and for the fictional nature of their content.”
But like most fake news stories, this one is based on actual events. A history buff named Derek Duke heard stories about an atomic bomb that was supposedly dropped near Georgia in 1958 and looked up the pilot of the plane, Howard Richardson, the Associated Press reports:
“Slowly, Richardson began to share his story — first with Duke and later with the Associated Press.
“It was Feb. 5, 1958, and he was a major at the controls of a B-47 bomber — one of a dozen from the 19th Bombardment Wing taking off on a training mission from Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. All were carrying H-bombs.
“At the time, it was routine for crews in training to carry transportation-configured nuclear bombs, with the detonation capsules removed to prevent a nuclear explosion, the Air Force said. The idea was simple. It gave the crews the opportunity to practice with the bomb, said Billy Mullins, associate director of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons and Counterproliferation Agency.”
Richardson said he lost an engine during the training exercise and was instructed to drop the bomb into the ocean because landing with it on a rough runway would have been too risky. Navy divers searched for the bomb for months, but it was never found. Later, the Air Force said that it was not an active nuclear bomb, the Associated Press reports:
“As Duke was learning all of this, he turned up a copy of the Atomic Energy Commission receipt Richardson had signed. Written in ink near the top of the document was the word ‘simulated.’ That, according to the Air Force, meant the bomb, containing 400 pounds of conventional explosives and an undisclosed amount of uranium, did not have a detonation capsule. Without it, there was no risk of a nuclear explosion.”
But Richardson gave conflicting reports about whether or not the atomic bomb had a detonation capsule over the years, so that has caused some to speculate that an active atomic bomb is still lost somewhere off the coast of Georgia.
Conspiracy theories about the lost bomb are likely to persist — but amateur divers definitely did not find it.
A photo of a scuba diver posing under water with a bomb that ran with the fake news story was actually taken in the Baltic Sea. The bomb was an unexploded relic from World War II, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports:
“In 1943, during a British air raid on a German military site, thousands of bombs were dropped on the port village of Peenemünde. Many of these were bombs that contained phosphorus and about 40 percent missed their target and landed in the sea. They have been rotting beneath the water ever since. About 65 bombs are discovered on Germany’s coastlines each year.”
These lost bombs are not atomic, but they can explode and cause injuries. They also leak toxic gas into the sea.