Officials released few details Thursday into what exactly happened that prompted the evacuation of Homestead Air Reserve Base and the disruption of life for hundreds of surrounding residents the night before — other than to say in a statement that a “transportation mishap occurred involving [an] explosive ordnance.”
A source with connections at the base told the Miami Herald that a 500-pound bomb dropped from one of the bases F-16 fighter planes while on the ground and rolled near an area where other bombs were stored.
But Base spokesman Tyler Grimes denied this on Thursday, saying that the incident, which happened about 5 p.m., “did not involve any of our aircraft.”
Grimes would not elaborate on how the bomb was being transported when it became damaged or whether the device ended up near other explosives, as the source told the Herald.
“There’s an investigation going on right now, and I don’t want to speculate too much on the details,” Grimes said. “We want the investigation to play out.”
Homestead Air Reserve Base is home to the 93rd Fighter Squadron of the Air Force Reserve Command’s 482nd Fighter Wing. The 93rd, called “the Makos,” consists of 28 F-16s, Grimes said.
Not only was the base evacuated, but hundreds of residents were either prevented by police from going home to their neighborhoods — and those who were already home were told not to leave their houses.
Residents of neighborhoods like Waterstone trying to get back home were kept away for hours.
“I had to ride my bicycle out of Waterstone and go get my child from church,” Waterstone resident Tanya Ward said on the base’s Facebook page. “Once we got back they wouldn’t even let us into Waterstone. We didn’t get to bed until 11 p.m. and she had to get up for school at 5:45 a.m.”
Miami-Dade County Police officers had several roadblocks set up. Additionally, the department announced that people should avoid the areas of Southwest 137th Avenue to Waterstone Boulevard from Southwest 288th Street to 312th Street.
The base gave the “all-clear” around 10 p.m. Wednesday, announcing that no one was hurt in the incident. At 7:40 a.m. Thursday, members of the base’s 482nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal squad “rendered the damage ordnance safe,” the base said in its statement.
Grimes elaborated when asked and confirmed the EOD team “safely detonated” the bomb.
During normal duty hours, up to 3,200 people can be on the base, Grimes said, including 1,500 dedicated Air Force reservists. However, since the incident happened around 5 p.m., Grimes noted that the number of personnel on the base during the evacuation was “minimal,” adding that he did not have an approximate number.
If the bomb went off and triggered a bigger explosion, it could have been a major disaster for the base, and also for the ever-growing civilian population in the surrounding area. Back when Hurricane Andrew destroyed much of the base in August 1992, the population of the city of Homestead, then less than 30,000 people, was nowhere near what it is now, according to U.S. Census figures — around 70,000 residents.
Depending on what investigators determine happened, if someone — or more than one person — is deemed responsible for the incident because certain procedures were not followed, there could be a criminal prosecution by court-martial, “or some other lower level disciplinary action may be taken,” said Patrick Hughes, a former Air Force Judge Advocate General attorney now in private practice in Virginia.
“The Air Force relies heavily on checklists, which must always be followed with an exactness to avoid someone from mistakenly skipping a step due to complacency or otherwise,” Hughes told the Herald. “I have seen the Air Force take harsh actions against some service members who failed to follow their checklists for things that might not seem like such a big deal to an unknowing bystander looking in.”
“But, those types of actions are taken to instill the importance these checklists have, so as to try to avoid major mishaps that can occur when just a single step is skipped,” Hughes added.
Hughes stressed, though, that it is too soon in the process to say what will happen.
“If it is determined human error existed, the Command would be responsible for levying disciplinary actions based upon the severity of the person’s culpability for the mishap,” Hughes said.
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