ASSATEAGUE — For the second time this month, local, state and federal officials rendered safe unexploded military ordnance that washed ashore at the north end of Assateague Island.
Shortly after 1 p.m. on Tuesday, the Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office and the U.S. Air Force 436th Civil Engineer Squadron-Emergency Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team based out of Dover Air Force Base responded to Assateague Island National Seashore after the discovery of three suspected military ordnance that washed ashore in the area of North Ocean Beach. It marked the second time in as many weeks military ordnance washed ashore at Assateague.
National Park Service rangers reported the suspicious devices, which triggered the response of the Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office and the EOD team. EOD technicians determined the ordnance, which had been in the water for an undetermined amount of time, needed to be rendered safe where it was located and completed the task.
In addition to the ordnance discovered and rendered safe on Tuesday, additional ordnance previously recovered by National Park Service rangers was rendered safe on Wednesday in an unoccupied area on Assateague north of the state park.
From 1944 to 1947 during World War II, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army Corps used the Maryland portion of Assateague Island as a bombing and strafing training range. Air Crews from Chincoteague in Virginia and Manteo in North Carolina would fire practice rockets, bombs and machine guns from the air at targets on the ground on the barrier island.
While discovering unexploded military ordnance on Assateague is a relatively rare occasion, residents and visitors are reminded if they find any suspicious metal devices washing up on local beaches, they should not touch or handle them and immediately report them to local authorities for further investigation, according to the Fire Marshal’s Office.
While this month’s two separate incidents in were fairly rare, they were certainly not the first. In a high-profile incident from June 2013, a visitor walking along the North Ocean Beach area discovered a single piece of interesting debris and brought the discovery to the attention of park rangers. Park rangers were able to quickly identify the strange artifact as a piece of military ordnance left over from the island’s rich history as a military test range.
The Ocean City Bomb Squad was called to the island to investigate and make an assessment of the discovery. The investigation of the site where the mysterious device was located revealed an extensive cache of World War II military ordnance. The Ocean City Bomb Squad determined the size, scale and type of munitions discovered were beyond their protocol and an EOD team was brought in.
Further investigation by the EOD team revealed over 100 pieces of debris and unexploded ordnance in the same area. The ordnance was assembled in two prepared sites on the island for a controlled detonation. The beaches, parking lots and camping areas on the north end of the island were closed and no traffic was allowed to cross the Verrazano Bridge and the entrances to the state and national parks.
The first batch of discovered ordnance was detonated that same afternoon in the area where it was discovered, sending a plume of sand high into the air that could be seen from miles away. The second batch of discovered ordinance was detonated as planned without incident.
At the time, NPS officials said the ordnance found was inert, or not active, but there were strict protocols in place to investigate and disposes of them properly. In 1988, Army EOD teams were brought to the island when ordinance washed ashore in the same area where ordinance was discovered in 2013 and again this week. In that incident, it was learned the ordnance was washing ashore from a hole about 15 yards offshore where ordnance from the World War II test range area was buried and then became underwater with the changing shoreline of the barrier island. afet