Destruction of WW II-era ordnance jars Island night
Navy explosives ordnance disposal (EOD) experts late Wednesday night blew up five rusted practice bombs, discovered by walkers on Long Point in West Tisbury near the opening to Tisbury Great Pond.
The loud explosion reverberated across the Island and was heard as far away as Tisbury. The noise jangled nerves and generated worried telephone calls to Island police departments.
During the war years, Martha's Vineyard Airport was a Naval Air Station. Flight units, including squadrons of Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers, trained in skies over and around the Island for combat in the Pacific. Practice bombs continue to wash up on the shore.
Sergeant Dan Rossi, acting West Tisbury police chief, said the walkers discovered one bomb at first.
"There were some people walking the beach by the opening at Long Point that goes into Tisbury Great Pond, and they noticed a fairly large unexploded ordnance in the water," Chief Rossi said.
Mr. Rossi contacted West Tisbury resident Tom Rancich, a decorated 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, who spent part of his career as a Navy Seal dealing with disposal of unexploded bombs. Mr. Rancich's company, VRHabilis, is under contract to help identify and remove old munitions from several areas of the Vineyard.
Mr. Rancich told The Times that as the water ran through the nearby cut in the beach, it eroded the bank and uncovered the bomb. When he arrived at the site, he saw that it was a projectile and that there was a fuse in it.
"It was in a precarious position so I anchored it," he said. Mr. Rancich called in the EOD team.
When the two-man team arrived, they found four more bombs. The sound heard Wednesday was the detonation of the practice bombs.
More than 60 years ago, Navy and Army pilots regularly used Tisbury Great Pond and East Beach and an area known as Little Neck on Chappaquiddick for bombing and strafing practice. The list of munitions used at Tisbury Great Pond included 100- and 500-pound practice bombs with spotting charges, and .30 and .50 caliber bullets.
Over the years the remnants of those training missions, mostly rusted practice bombs, have continued to turn up in the marsh and on the beach, most often on areas owned or managed by The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR), the private conservation organization. Most of the ordnance are practice bombs that have only a small explosive charge, but a few of the discoveries have turned out to be the real thing.
Previously, the State Police bomb squad came to the Island to evaluate suspicious objects, but the frequent discoveries put a strain on the bomb squad's resources. Now, when a bomb is discovered, the authorities notify Mr. Rancich.
Mr. Rancich determines whether an object is safe to move and store, or whether it may be a live bomb that requires a controlled detonation.
Mr. Rancich said it is never safe to assume that a found object is an inert practice bomb or scrap. As for what private citizens should do if they come upon a suspicious looking object on the beach, Mr. Rancich has provided the following advice: "Recognize, Retreat, Report. Recognize that the item could be ordnance, retreat from the item the way you approached it, and report it to the police."
In recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun cleaning up what are termed Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS), properties that the Department of Defense once owned or used, but no longer controls. Martha's Vineyard is on that list.
Last summer the Corps of Engineers resumed clearing World War II munitions from the shore along South Beach on Chappaquiddick and Edgartown, and at Long Point in West Tisbury. VRHabilis, a subcontractor, assisted in the search and disposal effort.
Army headquarters has approved $5 million for what will be the second phase of a cleanup effort on properties owned and/or managed by The Trustees of Reservations and the state.
In 2009, in a collaborative effort with state, county, and local officials, the Army Corps conducted an emergency clean-up of rockets and practice bombs at Little Neck, South Beach, and Norton Point Beach, up to 100 feet from the shoreline. Those efforts resulted in the discovery and disposal of 127 MK-23 and MK-5 practice bombs from Little Neck and 617 aerial rocket motors, practice bombs, and warheads from Norton Point and South Beach.
None of the bombs found in the 2009 summer cleanup contained explosive material. In the past several years, the State Police and the U.S. Navy have detonated several 100-pound bombs and munitions debris that they believed contained explosive material, taken from Tisbury Great Pond and from Wasque Point on Chappaquiddick.