Loud “Boom” Heard & Felt Throughout West Virginia Late Thursday Night Has Public Baffled
It was the shot heard around the world — or, at least around Raleigh County and two counties over Thursday night, when a loud and mysterious boom shook the area.
Theories rained like manna from heaven Friday, but officials had no explanation for the nocturnal rumble.
The West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety announced Friday that there are no cases of ground explosions, arson or mine accidents, according to a MetroNews report.
“If you figure it out, we’ll both know,” Bradley-Prosperity Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Bobby Palmer said Friday.
The first report to Raleigh County Emergency Operations Center in Beaver came from a Prosperity caller around 10:30 p.m. Thursdays, but the EOC operators had hardly needed a tip.
“We felt it,” a Raleigh County Emergency Operations Center operator said Friday. “It was just, the whole building shook.” The EOC spokeswoman added that nobody in the 911 center actually heard the boom.
Sandra Akins, 72, of Sand Branch, heard it. Living near a quarry, Akin said, she’s used to sounds coming from there and never investigates, but the Thursday night ke-bang! was different.
“This one was humongous,” Akins, a former mayor of Thurmond in Fayette County, said. “It did not vibrate the earth. It was just a loud boom. I just lay there for a little while, wondering what it was.” She said a second sound followed the loud explosion.
“After this had happened, you could hear a collapse,” she said. “There was a collapse of whatever had burned.” Akins’ son texted her from Oak Hill to ask if she’d heard the noise he’d been reading about on Facebook.
Akin said an odor followed the sound. “It smelled burnt,” she described, simply. “It didn’t really smell like oil or rubber tires burning. It wasn’t a gas smell.” When she walked outside, she saw a haze in the direction towards Pax. “It was dark, and it covered the stars,” she said. “It was a haze, and you could see it filling that area. The rest of the area around was clear.”
Jen O’Dell, a Raleigh County nurse, heard the bang as she began driving a friend from Bradley near Crossroads Mall to Sand Branch. When she approached Prosperity, she said, she also encountered a “funny smell.”
To bookstore manager Anne-Marie Johnson, who was out walking her dogs, it sounded like a firecracker. “I thought it sounded like a single firework, but that seemed stupid to me,” Johnson said. “I talked myself into thinking it was a gunshot, because that was the only thing that made sense.” The dogs were ready to go into the house after the noise, she added.
Bridget Craft of Dry Hill Road said that when the bang shook her house, her father thought the hot water tank had exploded, while Fayette County teacher Dennis McGraw said he thought lightning had struck his Prosperity home.
The switchboard at the Raleigh 911 Center began lighting up, with at least 10 callers reporting a loud boom, EOC officials said. Raleigh EOC dispatched Bradley-Prosperity Volunteer Fire Department crews.
BPVFD Assistant Fire Chief Palmer recalled the investigation. The first call came from a house at Karen Lane in Dry Hill.
“About the time we were on our way to Karen Lane, we started receiving calls that this explosion was heard in Beaver, then it was called in by people in Crab Orchard,” Palmer reported. “People heard it in Ghent, and, within a matter of a few minutes, people were hearing the explosion in Fayette County and Charleston, Kanawha County area.”
BPVFD fire crews drove for 90 minutes in Prosperity, Sand Branch and Bradley in an attempt to find the explosion source. They saw no fires or smoke and no evidence of a recent blast.
Palmer said he called the security headquarters at Summit Betchtel Reserve where the Boy Scott Jamboree was happening. Boy Scouts officials told him everything was fine there. He checked the quarry and could not find an explosion.
As Palmer drove through Prosperity, he saw bobbing lights along the streets. Citizens were walking the dark streets with flashlights, in search of the source of the explosion. “It looked like Halloween,” Palmer said. “It was like people were out trick-or-treating. “I’m out driving the fire truck real slow…I’ve got people chasing the fire truck down, telling me what they think it was. They said, ‘Are you looking for the explosion? We are, too.'”
Palmer heard many theories, most of which he was able to rule out of the investigation.
“One was that someone shot a cannon,” he reported. “Someone ran up to me and said somebody was blowing up (a blasting target). We had people saying that somebody was letting off fireworks,” Palmer listed. “Somebody even asked me if we had an earthquake.”
Public interest in the noise was high all day Friday, he noted. “I’ll be honest,” he added. “I’ve been waiting on a phone call from a reporter all day.”
When asked if he had conspired with local and state officials to hide the explosion source from citizens, Palmer laughed. “Trust me,” he said. “If I knew what it was, I would tell you. I have seen all those conspiracy things on social media, and I’ve read probably 2,000 posts today about this explosion. And I don’t know.”
Some Raleigh County residents have suggested that UFOs, or unidentified flying objects from another planet, caused the noise. According to a MetroNews report, officials with the National Radio Observatory in Green Bank say that this is highly unlikely as no foreign objects appeared on their instruments.
National Weather Service-Charleston meteorologist Nick Webb stated that, in his professional and personal opinion, a UFO was an unlikely source of the clamor. “I would venture to say it wasn’t from that,” he said, laughing. “Occasionally, there could be a boom from a meteorite if it’s big enough as it enters the atmosphere, but that’s very rare.”
Webb said the roar in Raleigh was not a weather event and that he had not heard reports of the sound until The Register-Herald called him.
He said jets sometimes make a sonic boom when breaking the sound barrier, but it’s unlikely that a jet would do so during the night.
Local law enforcement is working with West Virginia Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato. No further updates are available as of Friday afternoon.
Akin summed up the phenomenon Friday evening.
“It is definitely a biggie, and it is a mystery that should not be a mystery,” she said. “There was smoke. There was an odor, and if anybody kept getting closer to it, they very well knew something was going on.”