US jets dropped bombs on the Great Barrier Reef this week. But while the drop was an emergency move, the bombs were unarmed and did not detonate.
Two Marine Corps jets were forced to jettison their weapons during a training mission when they were unable to drop them in the designated bombing range on Townshend Island.
The Associated Press reports that the four bombs were dropped in more than 164 feet of water. The area they were left was away from coral in order to minimize any possible damage to the Great Barrier Reef.
The jets were AV-8B Harriers with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit that had taken off from aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard. They were scheduled to drop the bombs on the range, but were told that it was not clear. After making several attempts to drop the ordinance, they began to run low on fuel.
In order to land on the aircraft carrier, the two US jets were forced to drop the inert bombs in the ocean. A US official explained that the pilots of the Harriers “chose to save the aircraft” rather than keeping the bombs and risking running out of fuel.
NBC News notes that each Harrier dropped two bombs that weighed 500 pounds. They each released one BDU 45 and one High Explosive GBU 12. The BDU 45s are inert bombs and the GBU 12s were unarmed when they were released. As a result, none of the four bombs detonated on impact with either the water or the bottom of the ocean.
The US jets dropped the bombs about 16 nautical miles south of Bell Cay in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The location was selected both so it would pose a very minimal risk to the reef and because the area is in a deep channel. It is highly unlikely the bombs can explode where they are at.
The US Navy currently planning a salvage operation to recover the bombs dropped by the two US Harrier jets. The Marine Corps, Navy, and Australian authorities are investigating the incident.
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