INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. — At least Barry Chubb and his wife’s 45-minute drive to Vero Beach, Fla., to watch two World War II-era bombs blown up wasn’t a complete dud, or “um,” as he phrased it.
The first 1,000-pound bomb turned out to be filled with sand — apparently a practice bomb — after Navy divers used a small amount of explosives to blow it up underwater on the sandy ocean bottom a mile offshore at 1:55 p.m. Tuesday.
A half-hour later came the second detonation of a smaller 500-pound bomb, which jetted up more water but also was not live, officials confirmed.
The trip was worth it, Chubb said, holding a pair of binoculars near the beach shore at Indian River County’s Round Island Park.
“It was a nice day to be out in the sun and enjoy the (view of the) water,” he added.
Until the bombs were blown up, it wasn’t known if they were fully charged: capable of leveling more than a city block and creating a 20-foot-deep crater.
During the process, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission pilot flew overhead, making sure no right whales or other marine life was visible.
After the explosions, Capt. Dave Scheffer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said there didn’t appear to be any harm to wildlife.
According to Navy officials, the bombs are vestiges of what was once an extensive amphibious landing training area along the Treasure Coast. Airplanes dropped bombs and the parts of the beach were filled with blocks of concrete and steel designed to thwart landing craft.
Through the years, bombs have occasionally been uncovered, as were the latest two spotted by the Army Corps of Engineers during an aerial survey of the shoreline.
The Navy dispatched its elite explosive disposal team. On Monday the five-member team dove, working to free the bombs from the ocean bottom and a reef.
That was only 300 feet offshore from beachfront homes in the Moorings subdivision in southern Indian River County. As a precaution, sheriff’s deputies knocked on the door of seven homes, urging residents to evacuate for the afternoon Monday.
On Tuesday, the disposal team was joined by 22 members of other agencies who gathered to oversee the attempted detonations and to safeguard people and marine life.
The two bombs were brought to the surface, towed out to sea and then lowered to the ocean bottom in a sandy area away from reefs.
When the all-clear signal was given, the bombs were exploded about a half-hour apart using remote detonators attached to small explosive charges the diver put on the two bombs.
A sheriff’s helicopter also was up, watching just from above the shore where dozens of people gathered to get a glimpse of what happened.
Indian River County Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Brian Burkeen helped with the onshore efforts to safeguard the public.
Contractors handling debris south of Vero Beach associated with World War II military activity at the site of the former Fort Pierce Naval Amphibious Training Base found the bombs about 50 feet apart last week during a federal survey of old underwater devices.
Army Corps of Engineers workers were searching for and removing objects known as “horned scullies,” which are obstacles intended to damage landing craft, when they saw the bombs.
The bombs are holdovers from when the military used Indian River and St. Lucie counties’ beaches for training for amphibious landings, such as at Normandy or in the Pacific Ocean. There also was a practice bombing area at Blue Cypress Lake in western Indian River County, used by aviators training at a Naval air station in Vero Beach.
According to federal records, the Navy only dropped live bombs, Burkeen said.
More (bombs) could be out there, waiting to be discovered, he said.
So far, “no one has ever been injured” by postwar encounters with the decaying munitions.