This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Mmmm… Swordfish


March 17, 1966: Alvin Sub Finds Missing Hydrogen Bomb

Off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean, the DSV Alvin submarine finds a missing American hydrogen bomb.


Allyn Vine

Allyn Vine

Alvin is a manned deep-ocean research submersible commissioned in 1964. Owned by the United States Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) it was  built by General Mills’ Electronics Group. Named to honor the prime mover and creative inspiration for the vehicle, Allyn Vine. The submersible has made over4,400 dives, carrying two scientists and a pilot, to observe the life forms that must cope with super-pressures and move about in total darkness.

The submersible features two robotic arms and can be fitted with mission-specific sampling and experimental gear. If Alvin is stuck underwater with occupants inside, the outer body of Alvin is able to come apart and the titanium sphere would then rise to the surface uncontrolled. It is unknown, however, if a human could survive the rapid trip to the surface.


On March 17, 1966, Alvin was used to locate a submerged 1.45-megaton hydrogen bomb lost in a United States Air Force midair accident over Palomares, Spain. The bomb was found resting nearly 2,990 ft. (910 meters) deep, and was raised intact on 7 April.

Hey we found your bomb!

Hey we found your bomb!

On July 6, 1967, the Alvin was attacked by a swordfish during dive 202. The swordfish became trapped in the Alvin’s skin, and the Alvin was forced to make an emergency surface. The attack took place at 2,000 feet (610 m) below the surface. The fish was recovered at the surface and cooked for dinner.


Most famously, Alvin was involved in the exploration of the wreckage of the Titanic in 1986. Launched from her support ship RV Atlantis II, she carried Dr. Robert Ballard and two companions to the wreckage of the great liner.

Alvin, accompanied by a small remotely operated vehicle (ROV) named Jason Jr., was able to conduct detailed photographic surveys and inspections of Titanic’s wreckage.

Bow of Titanic

Bow of Titanic


Jason Jr. seen here peering into a Titanic stateroom

Titanic's bow anchor chains lying on the deck of the ship

Titanic’s bow anchor chains lying on the deck of the ship

Titanic's starboard anchor

Titanic’s starboard anchor

80a3631fe3498c8f4cd2f142b0b38f081Though it is the world’s oldest research submersible, Alvin remains state-of-the-art as a result of numerous overhauls and upgrades made over its lifetime. The most recent, completed in 2013, saw the installation of a new, larger personnel sphere with an ergonomic interior; five viewports (instead of the previous three) to improve visibility and provide overlapping fields of view; new lighting and high-definition imaging systems; new syntactic foam providing buoyancy; and improved command-and-control system. Alvin is also completely disassembled every three to five years so engineers can inspect every individual component that makes up the submersible.



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