MADEIRA BEACH — Commercial fisherman Rodney Salomon-Prudo ensnared an 8-foot-long missile in his longline while out in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City late last month.
Salomon tied the missile to the top of his boat, the Bold Venture, and kept it there for the rest of the 14-day fishing trip. He brought the missile ashore Monday evening along with his 5,000 pounds of grouper.
Rodney figured the missile was inert, and he'd keep it as a souvenir.
Only one problem: It was live.
After Salomon came ashore, emergency officials summoned a bomb squad from MacDill Air Force Base to a marina off the Tom Stuart Causeway where Rodney had docked.
"This is a live air-to-air missile," Pinellas sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said Monday evening. "It is 8 feet long, and the MacDill team is dismantling it."
Officials cleared everyone out from 500 feet around the missile and asked a few people in nearby houseboats to move away.
The bomb squad dismantled the missile and left the scene just before 11 p.m.
Salomon, 37, said the missile had a hole in the back, making it look like it had already exploded, so he thought it was safe. He didn't think there was any danger of it exploding on land after it had bounced around on the roof of his 41-foot vessel for 10 days.
"If it was going to explode, it was going to explode a long time ago," he said.
Salomon, who was captain of the boat with three other fishermen, said he found the missile about 50 miles south of Panama City. That part of the gulf is used by the U.S. Air Force and Navy for weapons testing and training.
The Navy's Gulf of Mexico Range Complex, or GOMEX, extends south into the gulf between Panama City and Pensacola. To the east, Eglin Air Force Base uses 86,500 square miles of water and air space.
The Air Force has been testing missiles at Eglin since the 1940s, according to GlobalSecurity.org.
Salomon said he often sees missiles while fishing in that area. "I hear them exploding over my head all the time," he said.
The St. Petersburg captain said in February 2008 one landed 10 yards from his boat and exploded. He recorded the incident in his logbook, including his position, the time of day and this exclamation: "Thank God."
"It was a big explosion," he said. "It's ridiculous."
In fact, Salomon said the missile he carried to shore Monday was actually one of two he found on this trip. He said the other one appeared live to him — it had lights, a gauge and a camera that appeared active.
Salomon said he was fishing at a depth of 785 feet when he pulled up the missile. Pasha said the missile was corroded from saltwater, making it very unstable. Rodney reported his find to the Madeira Beach Fire Department when he got to shore.
In 2004, authorities investigated how a missile ended up in a Fort Myers scrap yard. It is believed it got caught in a shrimp boat's nets. It wasn't discovered until a welder set off the motor.
In 2008, a fisherman in India died in an explosion while trying to remove metal from missile remnants he found at sea, according to news accounts.
Salomon said the MacDill people told him not to pick up any more missiles. "They told me if you find another one, just let it go," he said.
CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this story used in print and online used an incorrect spelling of Rodney Salomon-Prudo's name.