The patrons of Darlene’s Tavern in the Maryland Eastern Shore town of Sudlersville were too busy enjoying the return of the shuffleboard table and the 50-cent chicken wing special to notice the bomb that slammed into the gravel parking lot outside.
It wasn’t until a customer glanced out a window, saw smoke and yelled that someone’s Buick might be on fire that people put down their beers and rushed to the door, said Lena Hartlove, who runs the tavern that has sat amid cornfields and farms for the past half-century.
By the time they peered outside into the dark after the bomb landed at 9:17 p.m. Thursday, the smoke was gone.
Most gave up and returned to their drinks, Hartlove said. They would soon learn that an A-10 Warthog fighter jet from the Maryland National Guard accidentally dropped an inert practice bomb over their tiny town, about 75 miles east of the District, population a little more than 500.
It landed 100 feet from the bar’s entrance, about two miles east of Route 301, and created a crater, causing no injuries but kicking up rocks and covering cars with dust. “I still can’t believe it,” Hartlove said.
Lt. Col. Charles Kohler, a spokesman for the Maryland National Guard, described the tear-shaped practice bomb as two feet long and weighing 35 pounds, with a concrete body and blue-colored iron fins.
It is not capable of exploding, but it is designed to emulate a 500-pound explosive.
Kohler said the jets had taken off from Warfield Air National Guard Base, located on the grounds of Martin State Airport in Middle River in eastern Baltimore County. The crew had been dropping practice bombs over Warren Grove Range, north of Atlantic City.
Kohler said that, while returning, a pilot saw a warning that “some of the ordnance did not properly release.” He said another fighter jet flew under the A-10 for a visual inspection, but it was too dark to see. The spokesman said the pilot returned to the base, avoiding densely populated areas.
Hartlove said she knows precisely what time the bomb struck because her outdoor surveillance camera caught the impact. She said customers were too busy and the music too loud for anyone to hear it, and that even some people sitting outside at picnic tables were oblivious. It wasn’t until she went out with a flashlight that she found the crater.
She called 911 and told police that someone had thrown a pipe bomb at her property.
Officers started to dig but quickly stopped when they saw the blue fins and realized that it might be a bomb.