A barrier island community on Florida’s west coast with over 3,000 vacation accommodations, white sandy beaches, and plenty of sunshine, St. Pete Beach is a popular tourist destination. Conveniently located less than an hour from Tampa, vacationers come from around the globe to enjoy a bit of rest and relaxation at St. Pete Beach.
July is a busy time at St. Pete Beach, especially since it was voted Tripadvisor’s No. 1 beach in the United States and No. 5 in the world in 2012. On the morning of Sunday, July 19, a visitor discovered a suspicious object near the 22nd Avenue beach access. The object was a cylinder about four feet long with a cone-shaped cap on one side and encrusted with barnacles.
After inspection by the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office Bomb Squad, it was identified by the MacDill Air Force Base Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team as a World War II-era photoflash bomb. According to the Harrington Aviation Museum Society, photoflash bombs were designed to detonate before hitting the ground, creating a bright flash of light to allow night photography aircraft to complete their missions while remaining at high altitude. Photoflash bombs are no longer used by the United States military due to technological advances that have rendered the bombs obsolete. While they were in use, they had to be handled with care due to their sensitivity to friction, shock, and temperature.
St. Pete Beach Mayor Maria Lowe was on the scene, concerned for the welfare of the residents and tourists present.
“We are operating at this point with an abundance of caution to make sure everyone is protected and safe. The most important thing to know is everyone is here that needs to be here to make sure that the beach is kept safe.”
Authorities created a 300 yard safety perimeter and evacuated a portion of St. Pete Beach, including 20 homes and approximately 250 people. A backhoe was used to dig around the device, creating a sand wall to isolate the device from the surrounding area. After the walls were built, the MacDill Air Force Base Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team detonated the device using C4, an explosive that contains no shrapnel. The device was detonated at about 5:30 pm.
Sea turtles dig their nests on St. Pete Beach, so a sand wall was also built to protect a nearby nest. Sea turtles begin nesting on St. Pete Beach in May and after a 45-70 day gestation period, hatching continues through the end of October.
[Photo via Lance Rothstein/tbo.com]