The mystery of the missing Malaysian airliner took a back seat in Bladen County on Tuesday when an explosion some described as a sonic boom was heard and immediately began creating a myriad of theories — none of which have explained the incident.
Late Tuesday afternoon was a quiet, misty one as the early week’s rains continued to dampen the region.
But at about 5:15 p.m., everything changed in the blink of an eye, when an explosion of some kind rattled windows, shook the ground and got the attention of folks from nearly one end of the county to the other.
In downtown Elizabethtown, shoppers and business owners were drawn out to the sidewalks to scan the air for anything that would explain the sound. But instead of answers, only theories abounded.
The Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, which was inundated with telephone calls, was also at a loss after deputies made a thorough investigation of the area.
“There was what sounded and felt like an explosion,” said Chief Deputy Rodney Hester. “However, nothing was located.
“I was … told that someone from the military called the Elizabethtown Police Department and stated that it was a sonic boom from one of their jets,” he added. “Don’t know if this is true or not about the phone call.”
Elizabethtown Police Chief Bobby Kinlaw said he hasn’t heard that.
“As of 5 p.m. yesterday, nobody had called here,” Kinlaw said. “If they called after 5 p.m., it would roll over to the 911 dispatchers. But I haven’t heard they were called, either.
“I was told there was a helicopter hovering over near the river and two explosions happened back to back … and the helicopter took off,” he added. “You can take that for what it’s worth.”
Floyd Merritt, who owns Merritt’s Pottery on U.S. 701 between Elizabethtown and White Lake, said the explosion shook the building at the pottery.
“We were here and it shook the doors and rattled everything,” said Merritt. “It just shook the whole building.”
He added that he went outside and looked around, seeking the source of the noise, but didn’t see anything.
“I hope they find out because I want to know,” said Merritt.
Numerous emergency vehicles and personnel converged on the Merritt’s Pottery area shortly after the explosion took place.
Ricky Leinwand, owner of Leinwand’s Department Store and member of the Elizabethtown Town Council, said he had just left the afternoon session of the board’s budget retreat at White Lake when the boom occurred.
“I was sitting at the stop sign there on U.S. 701 at the Wam Squam and the car started shaking,” said Leinwand.
He added that his first thought was that someone had struck his vehicle. Leinwand said when he checked his mirrors he found no other vehicle.
“When I got here (to the store) the guys asked me if I heard it,” said Leinwand.
Elizabethtown Fire Chief Byron Graham said, “I saw last night where Kenneth Clark, who was first on the scene, said it was a sonic boom. …. there were reports of a plane having gone over the area.”
Graham said rumors of some type of an explosion having taken place were unfounded. He added that, about three weeks ago, emergency officials chased a similar incident in the same area of the county without being able to find an answer.
Some of the theories being bandied about include a bomb going off, the dynamiting of beaver lodges, surface-level earthquake (knows as Seneca guns), a liquor still blowing up, a meth lab exploding and the sonic boom idea.
The incident was reportedly felt from Bladenboro to Wallace.