News & Current Affairs

June 22, 2009

Missing for 50 years – US nuclear bomb

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Missing for 50 years – US nuclear bomb

Colonel Howard Richardson

Colonel Howard Richardson ditched the bomb off Tybee Island

More than 50 years after a 7,600lb (3,500kg) nuclear bomb was dropped in US waters following a mid-air military collision, the question of whether the missing weapon still poses a threat remains.

In his own mind, retired 87-year-old Colonel Howard Richardson is a hero responsible for one of the most extraordinary displays of aeronautic skill in the history of the US Air Force.

His view carries a lot of weight and he has a large number of supporters – including the Air Force itself which honoured his feat with a Distinguished Flying Cross.

But to others, he is little short of a villain: the man who 50 years ago dropped a nuclear bomb in US waters, a bomb nobody has been able to find and make safe.

‘Top-secret flight’

Shortly after midnight on 5 February 1958, Howard Richardson was on a top-secret training flight for the US Strategic Air Command.

It was the height of the Cold War and the young Major Richardson’s mission was to practise long-distance flights in his B-47 bomber in case he was ordered to fly from Homestead Air Force Base in Florida to any one of the targets the US had identified in Russia.

Colonel Howard Richardson
We thought maybe it was something from outer space, but it could only be another plane
Colonel Howard Richardson

The training was to be as realistic as possible, so on board was a single massive H-bomb – the nuclear weapon he might one day be instructed to drop to start World War III.

As he cruised at 38,000 feet over North Carolina and Georgia, his plane was hit by another military aircraft, gouging a huge hole in the wing and knocking an engine almost off its mountings, leaving it hanging at a perilous angle.

At his home in Mississippi, Colonel Richardson said: “All of a sudden we felt a heavy jolt and a burst of flame out to the right.

“We didn’t know what it was.

“We thought maybe it was something from outer space, but it could only be another plane.”

The colonel thought his number was up. His bomber started plummeting to earth and he struggled with the flight deck to get any kind of response.

“We had ejection seats – I told ’em: ‘Don’t hit the ejection seats just yet. I’m gonna see if we can fly.'”

As he dropped to 20,000 feet, he somehow got the damaged craft under control and levelled out.

He and his co-pilot then made a fateful decision which probably saved both their lives and the lives of countless people on the ground.

B-47 bomber wing

The B-47’s engine was left hanging from the plane

Colonel Richardson told me that the decision was instantaneous – and he still has no doubt it was the right thing to do.

They would ditch their nuclear payload as soon as possible in order to lighten the aircraft for an emergency landing and also to eliminate the danger of an enormous explosion when they made their unsteady arrival at the nearest available runway.

“The tactical doctrine for Strategic Air Command gave me the authority to get rid of it (the bomb) for the safety of the crew – that was the number one priority,” Colonel Richardson said.

He managed to direct the B-47 a mile or two off the coast of Savannah and opened the bomb doors, dropping the bomb somewhere into the shallow waters and light sand near Tybee Island.

He then managed a perfectly executed descent from which he and his crew walked away unscathed.

The pilot of the other aircraft, an F-86 fighter jet, also survived, after his ejector seat shot him clear of his aircraft.

I’ve been living with it now for 51 years
Colonel Howard Richardson

Immediately after the crash, a search was set up to find the unexploded nuclear weapon, buried somewhere too close for comfort to the US’s second-largest seaport and one of its most beautiful cities.

Numerous other searches have followed, both official and unofficial, and each of them has also proved unsuccessful.

So the bomb remains tucked away on the sea-bed, in an area which is frequently dredged by shrimp fishermen, any one of whom could suddenly find that they have netted something a touch larger and scarier than a crustacean.

How dangerous the bomb is after all these years is a matter of hot debate.

The US Air Force insists it is safest to leave it wherever it is, and Colonel Richardson is adamant that it is incapable of a nuclear explosion because it lacks the vital plutonium trigger.

‘Practice mission’

He said these were routinely left out of the bombs used on training flights.

“This was just a practice mission. We were continually working out any problems, that’s why we had to practise – we wanted to be perfect,” he said.

But his case has been vigorously contested by opponents who raise apocalyptic fears of a thermonuclear explosion which could destroy much of the US eastern seaboard.

Fears have also been expressed that the bomb could be located and recovered by a terrorist group, and are even some who believe that may already have happened.

For Colonel Richardson, the event which shaped his life has not ended quite the way he thought it would.

“I’ve been living with it now for 51 years.

“We had an accident and I landed the aircraft safely… I did get a Distinguished Flying Cross from a general for that.

“I thought that would be the story. That’s not the story – everything’s about the nuclear weapon.”

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August 28, 2008

Hacker loses extradition appeal

Hacker loses extradition appeal

Gary McKinnon

Gary McKinnon could face a long prison sentence

A Briton accused of hacking into secret military computers has lost his appeal against extradition to the US.

Glasgow-born Gary McKinnon was said to be “distraught” after losing the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. He faces extradition within two weeks.

The unemployed man could face life in jail if convicted of accessing 97 US military and Nasa computers.

The 42-year-old admitted breaking into the computers from his London home but said he sought information on UFOs.

Mr McKinnon asked the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to delay his extradition pending a full appeal to the court against his extradition but his application was refused.

He claimed the extradition would breach his human rights.

‘Absolutely devastated’

His solicitor Karen Todner said this had been her client’s “last chance” and appealed to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to intervene.

Our client now faces the prospect of prosecution and imprisonment thousands of miles away from his family in a country in which he has never set foot
Solicitor Karen Todner

“He is absolutely devastated by the decision,” she said. “He and his family are distraught.

“They are completely beside themselves. He is terrified by the prospect of going to America.”

She added Mr McKinnon had recently been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and would ask for the case to be tried in this country.

“The offences for which our client’s extradition is sought were committed on British soil and we maintain that any prosecution ought to be carried out by the appropriate British authorities,” she added.

“Our client now faces the prospect of prosecution and imprisonment thousands of miles away from his family in a country in which he has never set foot.”

Mr McKinnon, from Wood Green, north London, was arrested in 2002 but never charged in the UK.

He first lost his case at the High Court in 2006 before taking it to the highest court in the UK, the House of Lords.

Computer nerd

The US government claims he committed a malicious crime – the biggest military computer hack ever.

The authorities have warned that without his co-operation and a guilty plea the case could be treated as terrorism and he could face a long jail sentence.

The former systems analyst is accused of hacking into the computers with the intention of intimidating the US government.

It alleges that between February 2001 and March 2002, he hacked into dozens of US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Department of Defense computers, as well as 16 Nasa computers.

Prosecutors say he altered and deleted files at a naval air station not long after the 11 September attacks in 2001, rendering critical systems inoperable.

However, Mr McKinnon has said his motives were harmless and innocent. He denies any attempts at sabotage.

He said he wanted to find evidence of UFOs he thought was being held by the US authorities, and to expose what he believed was a cover-up.

August 8, 2008

Freeman discharged from hospital

Freeman discharged from hospital

Morgan Freeman (file photo)

Morgan Freeman received an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby in 2005

Hollywood star Morgan Freeman has been discharged from a  hospital where he was recovering after a car crash.

In a short statement issued after his release, Freeman said that he was well.

He suffered a broken arm and had to undergo surgery after his car overturned and landed in a ditch near his home in Mississippi on Sunday.

A female passenger was also injured. On Wednesday Freeman’s lawyer said the 71-year-old actor and his wife of 24 years, were getting divorced.

Bill Luckett said: “And for legal and practical purposes the pair have been separated since December 2007.”

Freeman married costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee in June 1984.

The cause of the accident is unclear. Police said it was possible that the actor had fallen asleep at the wheel.

There is no word on the condition of his passenger, Demaris Meter of Memphis.

Freeman won a best-supporting actor Oscar for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby in 2005.

Last year it was announced the actor would play former South African president Nelson Mandela in forthcoming film The Human Factor.

His first credited film appearance was in the 1971 movie Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!

Prior to that, he had worked as a mechanic in the US Air Force.

August 7, 2008

Actor Freeman ‘in divorce action’

Actor Freeman ‘in divorce action’

Myrna Colley-Lee and Morgan Freeman

Divorce rumours about Colley-Lee and Freeman surfaced in June

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman and his wife of 24 years  are to divorce, according to his lawyer.

Bill Luckett told US cable TV show Access Hollywood that Freeman and costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee “are involved in a divorce action”.

He added: “And for legal and practical purposes the pair have been separated since December 2007.”

The 71-year-old Dark Knight star is recovering after being involved in a serious car accident on Sunday.

Freeman was driving a car belonging to his friend, Demaris Meyer, when he lost control and veered off a highway close to his home in Charleston, Mississippi.

The car flipped over several times before landing in a ditch.

Arm injuries

Bill Rogers, who saw the accident happen, recalled a conversation he had with Freeman at the scene: “He said that she had offered him a ride home; that they were friends, and she didn’t really know the way and so he was going to drive the vehicle.”

The pair were airlifted to Memphis’s Regional Medical Centre, about 90 miles (145km) north of where the accident occurred.

The actor suffered a broken arm, broken elbow and minor shoulder injuries.

Mr Luckett, who also co-owns a blues club with Freeman, visited the actor in hospital on Wednesday. He said: “It’s going to take a few months because he got banged up pretty badly actually.”

“He’s in good spirits today and he hopes his golf swing is going to be better than ever now with his fixed arm,” the lawyer added.

Freeman married Myrna in June 1984. He also has two children with his first wife, Jeanette Adair Bradshaw, whom he was married to for 12 years from 1967.

Mechanic

Freeman won a best supporting actor Oscar for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby in 2005.

He has twice been nominated in the leading actor category – for The Shawshank Redemption in 1995 and Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.

Last year it was announced the actor would play former South African president Nelson Mandela in forthcoming film The Human Factor.

His first credited film appearance was in the 1971 movie Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!

Prior to that, he had worked as a mechanic in the US Air Force.

His film appearances include Se7en, Unforgiven and the rebooted Batman franchise.

August 5, 2008

Morgan Freeman hurt in car crash

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman is in hospital after being injured in a car accident near his Mississippi home.

The 71-year-old Dark Knight star is in a serious condition, according to staff at Memphis’s Regional Medical Center.

The accident happened shortly before midnight on Sunday outside Charleston in the Mississippi Delta.

A Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman told the that Mr Freeman’s car left the road and “began to flip several times” before landing in a ditch.

Mr Freeman – who had been driving the car – and a female passenger were airlifted to the Memphis hospital, about 145km (90 miles) north of where the accident occurred in Tallahatchie County.

Talking at the scene

Both the actor and the woman, Demaris Meyer of Memphis, had been wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident, said Sergeant Ben Williams.

“There’s no indication that either alcohol or drugs were involved,” he added.

Mr Freeman was conscious and talking at the scene, he said, but the extent of his injuries was unclear.

There were “no other vehicles or pedestrians involved”, he said.

An investigation into the accident is currently under way.

Clay McFerrin, editor of local newspaper the Sun-Sentinel, told the Associated Press news agency he had been at the scene on Mississippi Highway 32, not far from where Mr Freeman owns a home with his wife.

“He was lucid, conscious,” Mr McFerrin said. “He was talking, joking with some of the rescue workers at one point.”

When one person tried to take a photo with a mobile phone, Mr Freeman joked, “no freebies, no freebies,” Mr McFerrin said.

FREEMAN FACTS
Born 1 June 1937, in Memphis, Tennessee
He spent several years in the US Air Force as a mechanic
Freeman started acting in the 1960s, appearing a couple of off-Broadway shows
His first credited film appearance was in 1971’s Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!
Freeman starred in some of the biggest films of the 1990s, including The Shawshank Redemption, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Se7en, and Deep Impact
He won an Oscar in 2005 for the film Million Dollar Baby
Freeman plays Lucius Fox in this summer’s blockbuster, The Dark Knight (pictured)

Mechanic

Morgan Freeman is one of Hollywood’s best loved and busiest actors.

Mr Freeman won a best supporting actor Oscar for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby in 2005.

He has twice been nominated in the leading actor category – for The Shawshank Redemption in 1995 and Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.

Last year it was announced the actor would play former South African president Nelson Mandela in forthcoming film The Human Factor.

His first credited film appearance was in the 1971 movie Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!

Prior to that, he had worked as a mechanic in the US Air Force.

His film appearances include Se7en, Unforgiven and the rebooted Batman franchise.

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