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Obituaries

Nagasaki A-bomb plane co-pilot dies at age 88

| Friday, June 5, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. - Charles Donald Albury, co-pilot of the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, has died after years of congestive heart failure. He was 88.

Albury died May 23 at a hospital, Family Funeral Care in Orlando confirmed.

Albury helped fly the B-29 Bockscar that dropped the weapon on Aug. 9, 1945, and witnessed the deployment of the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima three days earlier as a pilot for a support plane. His plane dropped instruments to measure the magnitude of the blast and levels of radioactivity for the Hiroshima mission led by Col. Paul Tibbets Jr.

"When Tibbets dropped the bomb, we dropped our instruments and made our left turn," Albury told Time magazine four years ago. "Then this bright light hit us and the top of that mushroom cloud was the most terrifying but also the most beautiful thing you've ever seen in your life. Every color in the rainbow seemed to be coming out of it."

Three day s later, Albury copiloted the mission over Nagasaki. Cloud cover caused problems for the mission until the bombardier found a hole in the clouds.

The 10,200-pound explosive instantly killed an estimated 40,000 people. Another 35,000 died from injuries and radiation sickness. Japan surrendered on Aug. 14.

Albury said he felt no remorse, since the attacks prevented what was certain to be a devastating loss of life in a U.S. invasion of Japan.

"My husband was a hero," Roberta Albury, his wife of 65 years, told The Miami Herald. "He saved one million people ... He sure did do a lot of praying."

Gwyneth Clarke-Bell, Albury's secretary at Eastern Airlines, where he worked for most of his career after World War II, told the Herald that Albury "felt he was doing his job, and that lives were saved on both sides."

Albury was born in 1920 at his parents' home, now the site of the Miami Police Department. He enlisted in the wartime Army before graduating fr om the University of Miami's engineering school. In 1943, Albury joined Tibbets' unit: the elite 509th Composite Group. They trained at White Sands, N.M., where FBI agents tailed them night and day. At the time, the participants were clueless as to the scope of what they were training to do.

After the war, he settled in Coral Gables, Fla., with his wife and flew planes for Eastern Airlines. He eventually co-managed Eastern's Airbus A-300 training program.

Albury told the Herald in 1982 that he deplored war but would do what he did again if someone attacked the United States.

"Everyone should be prepared to fight for liberty," he said. "Our laws give us our freedom and I think that's worth fighting for."

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