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Explosion triggers needless search for downed aircraft

"A huge explosion believed to have originated in the Maxwelton Beach area Saturday night sent sheriff's deputies and fire district personnel scrambling through dark forests and fields looking for what many Wahl Road-area residents believed was a downed aircraft.Though more than 50 people and a number of dogs from seven public agencies searched for about 12 hours, no plane was found. As it turned out, the supposed plane crash was attributed to a few coincidental sounds and overactive imaginations.The explosion, which Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said his office now believes to have been a large firework set off as part of a Cinco de Mayo party, convinced a number of people living in the Wahl Road area that a plane had crashed.More than a half-dozen people called 911 at about 11 p.m. reporting the incident, with most saying that they heard a low-flying aircraft pass overhead just prior to an explosion.Sheriff's deputies and Fire District 3 volunteers immediately started a search centered around Oliver Lake, a large wetland located off Dow Road. Early in the search, Hawley said, one of his deputies saw a flare shoot over the treetops, a flare searchers believed to be a signal from a downed plane.That was enough to get us going, Hawley said.While FD 3 volunteers were sent to Trinity Lutheran Church to stand by, sheriff's personnel combed the area from which the 911 calls originated. Around midnight, a Coast Guard helicopter flew over the area looking for a downed plane, but came up with nothing. At dawn, the sheriff's office called in the FD3 volunteers, the American Red Cross, the state's Department of Emergency Services, Snohomish County Search and Rescue, and a helicopter from NAS Whidbey to assist with the search. But by 11:30 a.m. Sunday, they had found nothing and called off the search. By coincidence, sheriff's deputies were dispatched Sunday morning to the Old Maxwelton Store on Maxwelton Beach to investigate a burglary that occurred there Saturday night. In speaking with several juveniles who witnessed the incident, the deputies learned that the suspected burglars had been lighting explosives around the time of the reported plane crash. Sheriff Hawley said the noise from one of those explosions probably reverberated across the water to the Oliver Lake area and prompted the 911 calls.Though emergency personnel left the area by late morning, one volunteer who did not know the search was called off prompted another emergency response when he got stuck halfway up a bluff he was climbing along the Double Bluff beach. Darin Reid, chief of FD 3's special services division, said the volunteer eventually climbed back down the bluff without assistance, but claimed to have seen a plane crashed in the water. The man's claim quickly proved to be false.The burglary at the Old Maxwelton Store and the source of Saturday night's explosion are still under investigation. "

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