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US Marine Corps misses target, finds and bombs Nemo

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A mishandled exercise is being blamed for four bombs – two inert, and two explosive but unarmed – being ditched On Australia's World-Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.

Two American Harrier fighter-bombers lifted off from the USS Bonhomme Richard as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre, carrying 500-pound bombs. Their target was a practise range on Townshend Island, north of Rockhampton.

However, on approach to the target range, the pilots were advised that it wasn't safe to proceed. Commander William Marks of the Seventh Fleet told Australian radio that there were “civilian boats nearby”, so the Harriers were ordered to go around. According to NBC, the aircraft made “several” approaches before they began to run low on fuel.

Commander Marks said the decision was then made to “conduct an emergency jettison”, and that the pilots' priority was to “get to a place where they would have the least impact”.

The bombs – two inert BDU 45 practise bombs, and two unarmed high-explosive GBU 12s laser-guided bombs – are now lying in a channel described as 50-60 metres deep and “not a hazard”, while the US Navy works out how to recover them without also messing up the piscatorial paradise that is the Great Barrier Reef.

The bombs' location is described as being around 16 nautical miles south of Bell Cay in the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says it currently deems the bombs as "low risk". ®

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