Explosives experts detonate cache of old TNT discovered near Tok
Archeologists find 98 blocks of explosive during survey. ‘Obviously it came as a surprise,’ project manager says
Explosives experts from Eielson Air Force Base detonated nearly a hundred containers of old T-N-T discovered recently near Tok. The experts believe the explosives were used by crews building the Alaska Highway some 80 years ago.
A team of archeologists discovered the explosives back in September while they were conducting an environmental assessment for an Air Force project. As they were surveying the site, they noticed something buried and began to excavate what turned out to be a box of TNT.
“They observed the case and obviously they saw one of the blocks of TNT that was visible,” says Capt. Christopher Price, the Army Corps of Engineers’ project manager. "Obviously it came as a surprise."
“Our contractor followed all of their safety protocols,” he said. “They recognized the threat, they retreated back to a safe distance and then they reported the situation to both local and government authorities.”
Price says Eielson Air Force Base officials dispatched members of its Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, or EOD. When they got to the site about 10 miles outside Tok, they uncovered 98 half-pound blocks of TNT. Four of those blocks is enough to destroy a small car.
An Eielson spokesperson said the EOD team determined the blocks could be unstable, so Price says the team carefully moved them to a safe place and blew them up.
“I believe they did the demolition and disposal that same day or the following day,” he said.
The Anchorage-based Cultural Resources contractor archeologists reported the find on Sept. 28. Eielson officials posted information and photos of the explosives on Tuesday. (A Corps of Engineers spokesperson says the archeologists were required to refer all media inquiries to the Corps.)
Price said the archeologists did some investigating about how the TNT got to the site and discovered an old map that showed a road near the survey site was a stretch of the original Alaska Highway, completed in 1942.
“So,” Price said, “ likely, the TNT was associated with the construction of that highway, back in the World War II era.”
The U.S. Army and Corps of Engineers built the Alaska Highway as a backup overland route to supply the territory during World War II. The highway begins at Dawson Creek, British Columbia and ends some 1,400 miles to the north, at Delta Junction. Several stretches of the highway have since been rebuilt and realigned, and portions of the old roadway can still be found along the route.
Editor's note: Eielson's public affairs office provided these recommendations on what members of the public should do if they encounter explosives:
1. Do not move or disturb anything you suspect is explosive or hazardous.
2. Take a picture if you can do so without placing yourself in harm’s way or disturbing the object.
3. Make note where exactly you found the item.
4. Mark the area with ribbon or similar material, if available.
5. Immediately leave the area and call 911.