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    Lost Beneath the Waves: The Haunting Tale of USS Ticonderoga’s Broken Arrow Incident

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    On December 5, 1965, what began as a standard nuclear weapon loading drill on the USS Ticonderoga quickly spiraled into disorder.

    An A-4E Skyhawk, piloted by Lieutenant (junior grade) Douglas Webster and carrying a B43 thermonuclear bomb, tumbled into the Philippine Sea—marking one of history’s most unsettling “Broken Arrow” incidents, a term denoting serious nuclear weapon accidents.

    The aircraft, its pilot, and the one-megaton H-bomb were lost in the depths, and the incident remained shrouded in secrecy until 1989, when its disclosure stirred international tensions, especially with Japan.

    The USS Ticonderoga was stationed on Yankee Station, conducting operations during the Vietnam War when the accident occurred.

    It was a Sunday, and the ship was about 50 miles off the coast of Okinawa, when the Skyhawk loaded with a B43 bomb was inadvertently rolled overboard during the exercise.

    The crew of the Ticonderoga witnessed the Skyhawk’s descent into the abyss as the pilot and bomb vanished beneath the waves. “We ran onto the elevator. We never saw Lieutenant Webster after he climbed into the cockpit or knew what efforts he might have attempted to get out of the Skyhawk,” recalled one of the airmen.

    Despite extensive searches, Lieutenant Webster, the Skyhawk, and the nuclear bomb were never found.

    What makes this event particularly haunting is not just the loss of a young naval aviator or the weapon’s proximity to Japan, which strictly prohibits nuclear arms within its territory.

    It’s the enduring silence beneath the sea where the bomb lies entombed, its potential for detonation, a subject of both scientific and environmental speculation.

    The bomb, with a one-megaton yield, was and still is a powerful relic of Cold War armament—its disappearance a stark reminder of the era’s perilous brinkmanship.

    As with the Tybee Bomb, another infamous “Broken Arrow” from 1958 where a B-47 bomber jettisoned a hydrogen bomb near Tybee Island, Georgia, the lost B43 bomb is testament to the harrowing legacy of nuclear armaments.

    It’s a legacy that encompasses not just the weapons themselves, but the individuals who manage them and the unforeseen consequences of their mishandling.

    The loss of the B43 bomb shares eerie similarities with the Tybee incident, with both bombs plunging into the sea and remaining hidden despite extensive searches.

    The Ticonderoga’s tragic episode remained classified for nearly 24 years, until its public acknowledgment precipitated a diplomatic inquiry from Japan, demanding details.

    The absence of transparency, coupled with the fact that the U.S. Navy never interviewed the witnessing crew about their observations or procedures followed during the accident, leaves an unsettled feeling and many questions unanswered.

    Relevant articles:
    Skyhawk Down, U.S. Naval Institute
    Fact Sheet: The Missing Tybee Bomb, armscontrolcenter.org
    1965 Philippine Sea A, Wikiwand
    A Nuclear Bomb Was Lost in the Philippine Sea in 1965. It Was Never Recovered, Esquire Philippines, Aug 4, 2020

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