For over two weeks, the United States Air Force has been scrambling to locate a crate of explosives that fell off one of their vehicles. Officials claim that the package was dropped in Mountrail County, North Dakota, on May 1 when a team from Minot Air Force Base was making an ammunition delivery between two ICBM sites.
It was not until 3 days later, on May 4, that the package was actually reported missing. Another twist of irony is the fact that this route was actually in the middle of the Fort Berthold Reservation, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, Native American Tribes.
Mark Fox, reservation chairman is concerned that this could be a potential hazard for people in his tribe.
"Being a veteran myself, I fully understand that accidents happen at any level. But my hopes and prayers are that it is found soon somehow, to avoid any possible injury or tragedy," Fox said.
The 91st Missile Wing Security Forces, a division tasked with protecting US nuclear missile sites from attacks, was allegedly responsible for the shipment. In the box was a cache of MK 19 automatic grenade launcher rounds weighing 42 pounds.
On May 11, the Air Force finally sent a search team of over 100 soldiers to comb the 6-mile route where the grenades were apparently lost, but they were unable to find anything. Now the Airforce is asking for help from the public and offering a $5,000 reward.
Sheriff Kenneth G. Halvorson told the Washington Post that these grenades can only be fired with specific government-issued weapons.
“This ammunition is specific to that launcher and will not operate in any other launching device without catastrophic failure,” he said.
However, Air Force Lt. Col. Jamie Humphries, a spokesman at Minot Air Force Base said that there is still a potential for danger because tampering with the container could result in an explosion.
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On Wednesday, Minot Air Force Base spokeswoman Danielle Lucero told the Bismarck Tribune that they were giving up the search, but still hope that someone turns in the grenades. What this essentially means is that the Air Force is no longer willing to spend any money or time finding the grenades, but is instead hoping that someone else cleans up their mess.
“The Air Force does not consider this a criminal matter at this time. It is seeking the public’s help to ensure the safe return of the ammunition,” a US Air Force spokesperson said to VICE News.
However, it is safe to say that anyone who finds these grenades and keeps them without notifying authorities could end up with a SWAT team at their door.
On May 16, just weeks later, the same Air Force base reported that they also lost a machine gun, but this time they don't even know where to start looking.
“During a standard weapons inventory at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota on 16 May, a M-240 7.62 caliber weapon was discovered missing. The 5th Bomb Wing and 91st Missile Wing immediately began a search of their weapons inventories and opened an investigation with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations," the base said in a statement on Thursday.
Two days later, an ammo box fell from a military helicopter in El Paso, Texas and crashed through the roof of an elementary school, according to CBS. No one was hurt in the incident, and the local Fort Bliss is reportedly investigating the flight route to determine what happened.
It is actually extremely common for the military and police agencies to lose track of weapons and explosives, sometimes by mistake, and sometimes on purpose. For example, a 2014 investigation found that nearly 200 state and local police departments were suspended from Department of Defense contracts for losing military-grade weapons that were given to them by the Pentagon.
Even more concerning, last year, declassified Department of Defense documents showed that the US military intentionally gave rebel groups associated with ISIS a large cache of weapons and explosives to help them orchestrate regime change in targeted areas. Although this was an intentional exchange, the Pentagon attempted to sweep it under the rug and play it off as a mistake.
Officials are asking anyone with information on the lost grenades to call 911 or the Minot Munitions Reporting Hotline at 701-723-7909.