News & Current Affairs

June 22, 2009

Missing for 50 years – US nuclear bomb

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:38 pm

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.”

November 5, 2008

Obama wins historic US election

Democratic Senator Barack Obama has been elected the first black president of the United States.

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight… change has come to America,” the president-elect told a jubilant crowd at a park in Chicago.

His rival John McCain accepted defeat, saying “I deeply admire and commend” Mr Obama. He called on his supporters to lend the next president their goodwill.

The BBC’s Justin Webb said the result would have a profound impact on the US.

“On every level America will be changed by this result… [it] will never be the same,” he said.

Mr Obama appeared with his family, and his running mate Joe Biden, before a crowd of tens of thousands in Grant Park, Chicago.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” he said.

He said he had received an “extraordinarily gracious” call from Mr McCain.

He praised the former Vietnam prisoner of war as a “brave and selfless leader”.

“He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine,” the victor said.

He had warm words for his family, announcing to his daughters: “Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.”

Congratulations… You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life
President George W Bush

But he added: “Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep… But America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”

From red to blue

Mr Obama captured the key battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, before breaking through the winning threshold of 270 electoral college votes at 0400 GMT, when projections showed he had also taken California and a slew of other states.

HAVE YOUR SAY

I find myself strangely emotional about this. I want to go wake up my neighbours and hug them

Amy Scullane, Boston

Then came the news that he had also seized Florida, Virginia and Colorado – all of which voted Republican in 2004 – turning swathes of the map from red to blue.

Several other key swing states are hanging in the balance.

In Indiana and North Carolina, with most of the vote counted, there was less than 0.5% between the two candidates.

However, the popular vote remains close. At 0600 GMT it stood at 51.3% for the Democratic Senator from Illinois, against 47.4% for Arizona Senator McCain.

The main developments include:

  • Mr Obama is projected to have seized Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada – all Republican wins in 2004.
  • He is also projected to have won: Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Delaware, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Rhode Island, California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon.
  • Mr McCain is projected to have won: Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, North Dakota, Wyoming, Georgia, Louisiana, West Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, South Dakota.
  • Turnout was reported to be extremely high – in some places “unprecedented”.
  • The Democrats made gains in the Senate race, seizing seats from the Republicans in Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Colorado. They also increased their majority of the House of Representatives.
  • Exit polls suggest the economy was the major deciding factor for six out of 10 voters.
  • Nine out of 10 said the candidates’ race was not important to their vote, the Associated Press reported. Almost as many said age did not matter.

LOSSES AND GAINS
Key states
Projected gains for Obama in former Republican states of Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Nevada
Senate seats
Virginia: Democrat Mark Warner replaces retiring Republican John Warner
New Hampshire: Democrat Jeanne Shaheen unseats Republican John Sununu
North Carolina: Democrat Kay Hagan replaces Republican Elizabeth Dole
New Mexico: Democrat Tom Udall replaces retiring Republican Pete Domenici

Several states reported very high turnout. It was predicted 130 million Americans, or more, would vote – more than for any election since 1960.

Many people said they felt they had voted in a historic election – and for many African-Americans the moment was especially poignant.

John Lewis, an activist in the civil rights era who was left beaten on an Alabama bridge 40 years ago, told Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church: “This is a great night. It is an unbelievable night. It is a night of thanksgiving.”

Besides winning the presidency, the Democrats tightened their grip on Congress.

The entire US House of Representatives and a third of US Senate seats were up for grabs.

Democrats won several Senate seats from the Republicans, but seemed unlikely to to gain the nine extra they wanted to reach the 60-seat “super-majority”, that could prevent Republicans blocking legislation.

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