U.S. Jets Drop Bombs on Great Barrier Reef

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 21 2013 11:41 AM

U.S. Jets Drop Four Unarmed Bombs on Great Barrier Reef

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An undated photo shows a colorful scene at the Great Barrier Reef off Australia's northeastern coast

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

It was a “training exercise that went wrong,” as the BBC describes it. Two U.S. fighter jets got into a bit of trouble during a training mission on Tuesday and were forced to drop four inert bombs on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s coast. The two AV-8B Harrier jets each dropped “an inert practice bomb and an unarmed laser-guided explosive bomb” into the marine park, reports the Associated Press. The Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site, is the world’s largest coral reef, stretching more than 1,200 miles. But the bombs were reportedly dropped away from coral.

NBC was first to get word of the news, reporting that two AV-8B Harriers were conducting the missions that would have them drop the bombs on Townshend Island but “the range was not clear.” When they began running out of fuel they had to land but couldn’t do that with the bombs. “They chose to save the aircraft,” one official said.

The U.S. Navy assured Australians that it will be recovering the bombs that were dropped in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, reports the Brisbane Times. The bombs are around 200 feet underwater, some 60 miles offshore and are in a “safe, unarmed state and did not explode,” according to a Navy spokesman. Still, environmentalists expressed shock that bombs would be dropped on such a sensitive site. "Have we gone completely mad?" Australian Sen. Larissa Waters told Australian Broadcasting Corp. "Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?"

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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