LITTLE TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. — Experts dragged sensors from boats and divers scooped soil from the ocean bottom Thursday, looking for radioactive clues to the location of a hydrogen bomb lost off the Georgia coast in 1958.
A crippled B-47 bomber dumped the 7,600-pound H-bomb into the Wassaw Sound near Savannah after the plane collided with a fighter jet during a training flight. At the time, the military searched for 10 weeks and finally pronounced the bomb irretrievable.
On Thursday, a team of 20 experts in nuclear weapons, gamma spectroscopy and underwater salvage searched for the Mark-15 bomb in an area of water roughly the size of a football field near uninhabited Little Tybee Island.
That is where Derek Duke, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who has doggedly pursued the bomb for five years, said he detected higher- than-normal radiation levels.
"Our goal is to have a definitive report on claims of radiation in this area — is it there and what it is?" said Billy W. Mullins, an Air Force nuclear weapons adviser leading the government team. "If it's the Mark-15, that's one thing. If not, where does this come from?"
Mullins said the government has yet to decide whether to remove the bomb if it is found.
Mullins' team hoped to complete its field work in one day. Results from lab tests on the water and soil samples are not expected back for several weeks.
The Air Force said the bomb is incapable of a nuclear explosion because it lacks the plutonium capsule needed to trigger an atomic blast. Still, it contains about 400 pounds of conventional explosives and an undisclosed amount of uranium.
Duke asked the military to renew its search three years ago, but the Air Force declined, saying it was better left undisturbed. The bomb is believed buried under more than 5 feet of mud, in water 6 to 40 feet deep.
The military also had no idea where to search in the vast Wassaw Sound, the site of Olympic sailing events in 1996. Duke's recent claim of finding radiation readings more than five times higher than background levels changed that.