Searching for bombs from Ft. DeSoto's past - FOX 13 News

Searching for bombs from Ft. DeSoto's past

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FT. DESOTO (FOX 13) -

Before it was what we now know as Fort DeSoto, that tract of land was the "Mullet Key Bombing & Gunnery Range."

Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched a new investigation, in conjunction with the Department of Defense, to see what secrets may still be hidden beneath the sand.

There are bombs, similar to the one you can view at the Quartermaster Storehouse Museum at Fort DeSoto, which has been re-constructed from old fragments of a real bomb that went off there back in the mid-1940s.

That kind of "sand bomb" would have been dropped by pilots and aerial crews practicing air attacks and using machine guns, practice bombs and even live bombs.

But not all of those live bombs detonated and nearly 70 years later, it's very possible they could still go off. Keep in mind, the U.S. Army did a major sweep before Pinellas County took the land over, and found nothing.

But the standards have changed since then, and now the Department of Defense has ordered a new sweep of the site.

The coast of Fort DeSoto has changed over the years. Storms have come and gone, and the topography has changed. Some of the non-public areas of Fort DeSoto are where many of the bomb strikes took place.

Today, in the park's maintenance area, there's no real danger to the general public. The big question is, how many of those dropped bombs never went off.

Some of the records, which might answer that question, are either buried in the National Archives or have long since been destroyed. We took a look at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' "before" and "after" photos, to see what's changed since then.

Frank Araico, with the Corps, showed one photo of an area where the land has changed significantly. It is currently a maintenance area that is not open to the public.

"You can see how the shape of the island has changed over time, and the fact that you can see what was here in 1945, which was a series of disconnected islands, as opposed to the all-encompassing park that's here today, which is connected by a series of roads, bridges and causeways," he said.

Then he pointed out a photo of the East Beach.

"We also have here, the Skip Bombing Range, and the Skip Bombing Range corresponds to the area of East Beach today, looking out over Tampa Bay. We had the Air-to-Ground Gunnery Range, which is situated pretty much along the same location, where the Principal Park Entrance and Ranger station is today," he said.

The Practice Bombing Range was the third area in question and today, is the Arrowhead Picnic Area near the North Beach.

The main focus, though, will be on the maintenance area that is not open to the public.

The last time anyone found a bomb was 1989. A county worker, digging in a private area, struck something metal.

"Thank goodness that he struck it on it's side. The bomb was still very much active and could have blown the guy to bits! We called MacDill Air Force Base and they came and took care of it," said James Wilson, who has been with the park since 1975.

Crews will start geo-mapping the area, then go through with basically a big scanner, to see and locate where the biggest "metal" concentrations may be. Years ago, workers discovered a large metal deposit near the Sunshine Skyway, which in its past life, was also a practice area.

But that turned out to be a bunch of old storm drainage pipes that had deposited there -- most likely due to storms.

The searches may amount to nothing, but they believe it's better to be safe than sorry. They'll be using for the first time ever, in October, dogs to try and sniff out areas, much in the same way bomb and drug sniffing dogs are used in crime-fighting. The search should wrap up some time in early 2014.

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