A live, unarmed French missile, essentially like a firearm with a safety on, was found at the Lakeland Linder International Airport Friday afternoon and safely transported to a munition storage facility at MacDill Air Force Base, where it awaits proper disposal, airport and base officials said Monday.
The airport has received inert missiles in the past as part of shipments for their defense contractor tenant, Draken International, said Eugene Conrad, airport director. But the fact that the missile was found live led to an evacuation of the whole southeast side of the airport for about four hours.
“I’ve been here for 10 years and Draken has been here since 2011, but this is a first,” Conrad said.
Members of MacDill’s 6th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal team were dispatched to secure the missile, and the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron sent a truck with a team to help them load and transport it to base, said Lt. Brandon Hanner, spokesman for the 6th Air Refueling Wing.
The Lakeland Fire Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives helped as well.
In an emailed statement Monday, Draken International gave this account of the incident: “In the process of evaluating shipments to Draken International’s Lakeland facility, our team discovered an object with questionable markings indicating it may be explosive. Adhering to the explosive safety rule of exposing the minimum amount of people for the minimum amount of time to a potential explosive hazard, we made the decision to evacuate the facility, inform our surrounding tenants, and contact the appropriate authorities as soon as possible.”