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Who Placed a Pipe Bomb in a Popular Swimming Hole?

Most of us don’t expect to find a bomb at our favorite swimming hole or fishing spot. Recently, however, North Carolina authorities were alerted to a makeshift pipe bomb in the Pigeon River.

A man called 911 around 1:00pm on Saturday, June 30, after noticing a pipe bomb in a local swimming hole near Sunburst Campground along Lake Logan Road in Haywood County, N.C. (Listen to the audio recording of the 911 call below. The caller’s name has been redacted.)

Blue Ridge Outdoors talked to Lindsay Renger, Public Information Officer at the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department, and Lieutenant Joe Silberman, member of the Asheville Police Department Hazardous Device Team (HDT), for more information.

Though responding authorities weren’t initially certain exactly how dangerous the bomb could be, the HDT wasted no time in evacuating the campground and recreation area prior to investigating the device. Fortunately, there are no homes or residents live in the area, and the swimming hole isn’t particularly close to any major roads, public areas, or structures. The closest overpass and other portions of nearby roads were completely blocked off during the operation.

The bomb itself appeared to be unprofessionally assembled, made from a metal pipe not quite a foot long and about two inches in diameter. According to Lt. Silberman, it had been submerged in the river for some time, but he can’t pinpoint the device’s age or origin.  He said the capabilities of most explosives and propellants aren’t necessarily mitigated by water, and that black powder can be soaked for years and still detonated when dried out completely. Possibly, someone had disposed of the improvised device in the river out of fear, assuming the water would render it useless. Silberman said most people assume incorrectly that anything underwater will eventually disappear, similar to attitudes concerning ordinary garbage or pollution.

Once the area had been completely cleared, the HDT used a specialized remote controlled bomb-disposing robot to counter-charge the pipe bomb from a safe distance. Essentially, they introduced a small amount of explosive, which breached the outer layer of the bomb, causing it to detonate under supervision. While the explosion was just as large as it might have been if the bomb were detonated accidentally, Silberman said this method was safer than attempting to dismantle or remove the device. After the detonation, the squad donned light armor and conducted a thorough post-explosion investigation of the area. No one was hurt, and the area was declared safe that evening by 6:00pm. Potential leads concerning the bomb’s origin have since been exhausted, and the case is now officially closed.

Lt. Silberman said that no two improvised explosive devices look the same, and if outdoor enthusiasts ever find something that looks particularly suspicious or out of place, they should leave the area immediately and inform local authorities.  “Don’t leave it, don’t touch it, don’t try to set it off, just leave,” he says.  “Whoever found this one did the right thing.”

A transcript of the 911 call appears below. Contact the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department if you have any tips or information.

Haywood County Police Department 911 call
(edited slightly for clarity; caller’s name has been redacted for privacy)

Operator (male): “Haywood County 911; where is your emergency?”

Caller (male): “It’s up at Sunburst, just past the swimmin’ hole.”

O: “Ok, what’s going on?”

C: “I’ve found an explosive device.”

O: “You found an explosive device?”

C: “Homemade explosive device.  I was doing some metal detecting and I picked up about 77 on my scale.  So I reached down and I moved some rocks, and lo and behold, there it was.  Now I took it up out of the water and laid it near the big boulder – there’s some people down there, they know about it, when you guys show up, they’ll point it out and show you where it’s at.”

O: “What exactly does [it look like]?”

C: “It’s a cast pipe, got a cast body … it’s got black tape wrapped around it, it’s got a green fuse connected to the top … it has not been lit, it’s got a wire connected to it.  I can’t tell … I believe it’s a fuse.”

O: “Alright, I’ve got them on the way to you, I’ll tell them to look for you.  Do the best you can, I know you can’t make ‘em, but try to encourage [the people there] to move away from that thing as best you can.”

C: “Alright, it’s just past the campground.”

O: “Alright, we’ve got them on the way.”

C: “Alright, thank you.”



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