Snow and Avalanche Center Avalanche News - 2005

Oops! Artillery Overshoot Lands in Neighborhood

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah - A 20-pound artillery shell loaded with too much gunpowder overshot its Provo Canyon avalanche target Wednesday by about three miles, exploding in the back yard of a couple and piercing three homes with shrapnel.

Remarkably, no one was injured.

Now the Utah Department of Transportation is scrambling to understand what went wrong and make sure it never happens again.

"We took full responsibility for this incident and we're extremely grateful no one was hurt," said Carlos Braceras, deputy director of the department.

The 105 mm shell was fired from a howitzer artillery cannon leased from the U.S. military. The military sends the shells pre-loaded with seven packages of gunpowder. The operators were supposed to remove two. Instead, it was fired fully loaded, and rocketed into the residential neighborhood.

- Salt Lake Tribune

UDOT claims fault for blast
By Andrew Damstedt Daily Universe Staff Reporter - 25 Mar 2005

A 105-millimeter howitzer, commonly used in canyon patrols, went over the mountain and exploded behind a home, said Pleasant Grove Police Lt. Jim Tauffer. He also said there were no injuries from the explosion.

The blast occurred at the home of Lori and Scott Connors, who live at 1665 E. 500 South, and damaged their house, surrounding homes and a vehicle.

BYU Professor Kevin Stoker’s home, which is across the street from the Connors, was damaged by the blast. He said the blast occurred just moments before a school bus would have dropped students off at the home.

Stoker said before the blast, one of the Connors' children laid down to take a nap. The boy usually sleeps on the couch, but Wednesday he decided to lie behind it.

“The front of the couch was riddled with shrapnel and the authorities said he probably would have died,” Stoker said.

UDOT spokesman Tom Hudachko said the shell was not loaded properly.

“The shells come preloaded from the military with seven bags of charge,” Hudachko said. “For this particular shot, we should have removed two bags of charge, but it was loaded with all seven bags, which sent it off the projected course over the ridge and in the neighborhood.”

Hudachko said UDOT will pay for the damages.

UDOT Suspends Use of Howitzer Cannon in Provo Canyon
Apr. 1, 2005

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah (AP) -- The Utah Department of Transportation has suspended use of its Howitzer Cannon in Provo Canyon for the remainder of the season.

The announcement follows an investigation into last month's incident in which an avalanche control shell missed its target and exploded in the back yard of a Pleasant Grove home.

No one was injured in the explosion, but there was property damage.

U-D-O-T's investigation found there was a breakdown in procedures. U-D-O-T Deputy Director Carlos Braceras says he's confident that the incident would NOT have occurred if procedures were followed properly.

The Department will take disciplinary action against the two employees involved.

UDOT to Suspend Use of Howitzer Cannon in Provo Canyon

Salt Lake City - Following an investigation into last month’s incident in which an avalanche control shell missed its target, the Utah Department of Transportation today announced it will suspend use of its Howitzer Cannon in Provo Canyon for the remainder of the season.

UDOT’s investigation found there was a breakdown in the procedure that is followed prior to firing avalanche control shots from the 105mm cannon. Further, the Department determined human error was to blame for the breakdown.

“I’m confident that had our procedure been followed properly, this incident would not have occurred,” said UDOT Deputy Director Carlos Braceras.

UDOT avalanche control workers follow a step-by-step procedure prior to firing each shot. One of the steps calls for the assistant gunner to observe the loader “prepare the round by removing the correct number of (propellant) bags” from the shell. In this case, the loader did not remove the correct number of propellant bags from the shell. Additionally, the assistant gunner was not observing the loader.

The Department will take disciplinary action against the two employees involved, but at this time that action has not been determined.

“We will continue to evaluate our avalanche control procedures to ensure safeguards are implemented that will prevent this type of incident from happening again,” Braceras said.

UDOT officials are confident those safeguards will be implemented in time to resume use of the Howitzer Cannon for avalanche control work next season.

“Fortunately, we’re at a point in the year where the need to conduct control work in Provo Canyon is beginning to diminish,” Braceras said.

Spring weather typically allows more opportunities for control work to be conducted using a helicopter to drop hand-charges into the avalanche paths. If further control work is required in Provo Canyon this would be the method UDOT will use.

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