Long before a scuba diver thought he saw a lost nuclear bomb by Banks Island, the islands’ own Hectic Straight was on the case.
“A-Bomb in the Charlottes — Almost,” ran the front-page headline of the plucky newspaper published by students of Queen Charlotte School in November 1981.
Then as now, the story was that a nuclear bomb ditched along the North Coast in 1950 was still missing.
At the time, The Vancouver Sun — described by the Straight as its major southern competitor — had just made the missing bomb story public.
The unarmed bomb was ditched somewhere at sea in 1950 by the crew of an American bomber whose plane was on fire and going to crash.
Last week, the Royal Canadian Navy investigated a possible sighting of the bomb by scuba diver Sean Symrichinsky, but found the bagel-shaped steel object he saw is some other sort of machinery.
Duncan White, a long-time English teacher in Queen Charlotte, remembers the Hectic Straight’s own investigation of the missing bomb as one of their top scoops.
“We actually made a collect call to the Pentagon,” said White, laughing.
The Pentagon refused the charges but, undeterred, the students dipped into the paper’s $15 kitty for investigative reporting and phoned again. This time, they landed a useful call with a U.S. Air Force captain.
The young reporters found that from 1950 to 1981, the U.S. Air Force lost 33 nuclear bombs — so-called “broken arrows” — and the one dropped into Hecate Strait or Queen Charlotte Sound was apparently the only one jettisoned in Canadian waters.
The students tried a collect call to the White House for comment, but had no luck.
However, the Air Force captain did mail a copy of the U.S. military’s ‘broken-arrow report,’ which had actually been in the public domain for years before the Vancouver Sun broke the story.
The Straight then corrected the Sun, which had incorrectly reported that all 17 crew on the bomber survived.
In fact, five of the men were never found.
White said the bomb story was among the paper’s best scoops, but not the only one.
“We had some classics,” he said, like the story about a new sewage outflow pipe for the old Queen Charlotte hospital that was incorrectly installed at low tide.
“The tide came up and we had an Ogopogo because they hadn’t weighted it,” said White, who sent the Hectic Straight’s star reporter for a follow-up.
While interviewing the person who installed the pipe, the reporter was told they had a PhD in engineering.
“What’s a PhD?” the reporter asked.
Along with the Pentagon report, the November 1981 edition of the Hectic Straight featured a profile of a young Miles Richardson, how-it-works illustrations of an incubating egg, plus a scientific study by the Biology 11 class — they discovered that the boy’s change room, the secondary hallway, and the vice-principal’s office were the top three germ-infested areas in the school.