The Bell Island Boom
Bell Island is a small island off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. (No, that’s not it pictured above.) It’s only about 13 square miles in area, and pretty low, never even reaching 400 feet in elevation. It was first settled in 1740, and was sparsely inhabited for the next century and a half, home to a few fishermen and farmers. In the late 19th century extensive iron ore was discovered on the island, and for decades it was one of the largest producers of iron ore in northeast North America. The mines extended well underwater though, and required constant pumping to keep them in operation. In World War Two the ore loading docks were twice attacked by German U-boats, 4 ships were sunk and 70 lives were lost. At low tide the wreckage of the sunken ships can still be seen. After World War Two extensive iron ore deposits were found elsewhere in Quebec and Newfoundland, deposits that could be accessed by railroad and didn’t require constant water pumping. By the 1960s the Bell Island mines could no longer compete, and they were shut down and quickly filled with water. Most of the population left, and the island faded into obscurity.
Until the sleepy Sunday morning of 2 April 1978, when Bell Island was rocked by a thunderous explosion, an explosion heard over 40 miles away. There was extensive damage to electrical wiring, and on one farm there were holes in their roof, the roof of their chicken shed was blown off, several chickens killed, and their electrical appliances literally exploded. Near the chicken shed there were several holes in the ground, as if buried explosives had gone off. Afterwards more details emerged. Some people reported a “bell like” sound before the boom. One person on the mainland reported seeing a “shaft of light” slant up from the island when the boom occurred. A young boy on the worst hit farm claimed to have seen a “hovering ball of light” after the blast. Ball lightning was first suspected, but meteorologists confirmed that conditions weren’t right for lightning, what the hell had happened? Deepening the mystery, two American scientists, John Warren and Robert Freyman from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (then called the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory) in New Mexico, showed up shortly after the blast. Why was the American government sending people to investigate a boom on a remote island in Canada?
Cue twilight zone music. And cue conspiracy theories. There were a number of conspiracy theories, all revolving around some sort of secret US or Russian weapons test. The main one involved some sort of electromagnetic beam weapon, where possibly the beam was “attracted” to the island by its vast amount of iron. All given credence by the US investigation, what had the two scientists been there for and why had they been so secretive about what they discovered? The US government certainly never made any announcements. To this day there are TV “documentaries” and web sites espousing weapons conspiracy theories about the Bell Island Boom.
Sigh. I wish people would wake up to the fact that people promoting conspiracy theories lie. They make stuff up. They omit key details. They speculate wildly, bolstered by scientific sounding words, even though their speculations usually make scientists cringe. In the Bell Island Boom case, we see all of these factors operating. Yes, the US government has experimented with beam weapons. And the results haven’t been promising. They take enormous amounts of power, and the beams produced aren’t anything like the phasers of Star Trek. Hell, a light mist or a dusty day can pretty much reduce even powerful beams to little more than a flashlight in no distance at all. The reason armies don’t use beam weapons is simple, guns and missiles are far cheaper and far more effective. And the idea that some sort of electromagnetic beam is going to be “attracted” to a deposit of iron ore apparently doesn’t even pass the laugh test.
And then there’s the “secretive” scientists. In actually they weren’t secretive at all, and freely discussed with the islanders what they were doing there. They were studying superbolts. Superbolts are extremely powerful and extremely rare bolts of lightning. They were discovered by the VELA satellite, which was designed to detect nuclear explosions. They occur in clear weather, almost always over the ocean. The two scientists heard about the Bell island Boom, checked the VELA records and determined that a superbolt had occurred on Bell island, and went to check it out as it was extremely rare to have a supervolt over land, let alone to know where it had touched down. And they weren’t bashful at all about explaining why they were there, both to the islanders and the press. Their conclusion? It was a superbolt, all of the things that happened were consistent with a large lightning strike. The “beam” seen from the mainland may have been lightning, but it may have been anything, including imagination. Other similar reports like the odd sound before hand were all extremely anecdotal and unreliable. Lighting can and does blow holes in buildings, kill chickens, make holes in the ground, and often blows up electrical equipment. In fact the only thing the two scientists found at all surprising, was that the supervolt hadn’t done more damage!
Is there a point to this post? Yes. One, to show how conspiracy theories can grow on the shallowest of ground. This was only a mystery for a few weeks, and no scientist has any problems with the superbolt explanation, but to this day some people still cite this event as a “mystery” event. As a codicil to this point, a follow-up post will document a similar event that is a mystery still, and may indeed have been a secret weapons test. My second point was that superbolts are just another reminder that new things are being discovered on Earth all the time. One could literally write a book on the dozens of similar type things about Earth that have only been discovered in the past few decades, reality is amazingly complex. I wish I had the words to express that correctly, we live in a magical world is the closest I can come. Lastly this post was a great vehicle for the image above, that’s a Canadian Forces helicopter that landed on a sea stack off of Bell Island. Yeah, that’s something Canadians would do.
Have a great weekend everyone.
(The above image was released into the Public Domain by its creator, David Barkes.)