After hearing a loud boom followed by sounds of what appeared to be explosions around 3:30 a.m., Mary Lampe, 70, of Bowie, said her husband, Don, promptly called 911.
“We thought it was gunfire, and it sounded like it was coming from the direction of Melford,” said Mary Lampe, who lives on Forest Drive, recalling the Oct. 7 incident. “It was disturbing to be honest.”
At 4:23 a.m., a Prince George’s County police helicopter crew that was surveying the area discovered the sounds were coming from an unannounced military training exercise in Davidsonville, said Bowie Police Chief John K. Nesky.
“We had no idea, so we kind of converged on the area, set up a perimeter and tried to judge where things were coming from. The county helicopter was able to determine it was a military exercise,” Nesky said.
The Lampes were one of 18 Bowie households that called 911 reporting sounds of explosions and gunfire, said Charlynn Flaherty, a spokesperson for the county’s Department of Public Safety that manages the emergency dispatch center.
The Bowie Police Department dispatched its entire seven-person squad and then requested assistance from the Prince George’s police who sent one of its two helicopters to survey the Melford area near U.S. 50, said Maria McKinney, a county police spokesperson. Since the calls were within Bowie’s jurisdiction, no county police officers were dispatched or other resources used, she said.
The United States Air Force based in Joint Base Andrews near Upper Marlboro conducts regular training exercises in Davidsonville. However, this particular training, which involves weapons training, is usually held in New Mexico or Germany and has never been held at the base before, said base spokesperson Eric Sharman.
Sharman said alerting the public about training exercises is “standard procedure,” and base officials are investigating why an announcement wasn’t made this time.
Bowie City Manager David Deutsch as well as police met with Air Force officials Monday to discuss the incident and negotiated terms under which the base will conduct future trainings, according to a letter Deutsch sent to the Air Force.
The training will continue in Davidsonville but only from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. until Friday.
Air Force officials have also agreed to contact city officials, the Bowie Police Department and local media outlets prior to any future trainings, Sharman said.
Police and Air Force officials are still uncertain why sounds from the training traveled to Bowie, especially since Anne Arundel County police didn’t receive any calls reporting noise, he said.
“We were thinking it was such low fog and cover that night that it pushed everything towards us. It was the perfect storm of atmospheric conditions to drive that sound towards us,” Nesky said. “We went out there with the captain and the colonel from the Air Force and they set out a ground burst and you could hear it, but it was nothing like the level it was [that night].”
The Bowie Police Department sent community emails and made an announcement through the Bowie alert system to notify residents of the ongoing training exercise, he said.