As the kids played on the beach, a round object wedged in the sand caught their eye and they instantly gravitated toward it.
But mom had no idea of the danger her children were in. She just took what she thought was a cute vacation photo – until she took a closer look at what was lurking in the background.
Kelly and Gareth Gravell were no strangers to the sea. They would often take their two children Erin and Ellis to the beach where the family lived in the coastal town of Burry Port in Carmarthenshire, Wales.
But on that fateful day, the family’s favorite spot had a lot more in store for them than just ice-cream and sandcastles.
The interesting thing about Burry Port – beyond its natural beauty as a popular tourist destination – is its deep ties to local history.
Not only was it once a busy shipping port, as its name suggests, but it was also where Amelia Earhart landed as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. That is, before she mysteriously disappeared.
In an ABC News interview after the incident, mom Kelly explained, “My children took their boogie boards and we were going out to the sea. They saw a large object on the beach, so thought they’d have a little look.”
But there are some things you really don’t want to have a “little look” at. This was most definitely one of them.
The moment the kids found the large orb, they were fascinated by it. At the time, they were less intrigued by the mystery of what the thing actually was than by what it was covered in. So while they were investigating, Kelly seized the moment to take a quick snap of them playing nicely together.
Kids tend to be drawn to things adults would rather not touch, and little Ellis was no exception. The boy reached out to the slimy exterior of the mysterious object, but he’d soon regret it.
“Don’t touch that!” his mum shouted as she marched over to the pair stood by the big round thing glimmering in the sun. “We’re about to eat lunch!”
But when she arrived at the scene to see what had caught their attention, it was clear to her what the thing was covered in. And she did not like it one bit.
At first, Kelly thought she was looking at a buoy that had been washed ashore. And now she was up close and personal with the thing, she was just as curious about it as the kids.
She’d forgotten about lunch and found herself squinting at the barnacles that covered practically every inch of the thing. “This must have been lying on the seabed for a long time,” thought Kelly. And she was right, this was not something that anybody had laid eyes on for more than 70 years.
The family branded their beach discovery the “sea monster” due to the unsettling way it looked. Later, they would caption it as such when they shared the photo of the kids playing by it on Facebook.
But a sea monster might have actually been preferable to what it actually was. And it didn’t take long for their online friends to point out what the children had been dangerously close to.
But it wasn’t a friend that reached out to the Gravells first – it was a government agency. They claimed to be from a “special team” and insisted the Gravells tell them exactly where in Burry Port they had found it.
One of the Gravells’ friends had alerted the local government to the object after zooming in. There was some writing covered up under the barnacles and, being a history and aviation buff, he was pretty sure what it meant.
Government agents were already on the scene when the Gravells returned to the location to find out what was going on.
“It very much looks like a buoy, which we get on the regular, but around it was gooseneck barnacles,” said Carmarthenshire County Council spokesperson Allison Thomas-David. “Of course, as the barnacles started dropping off, that’s when we could see writings exposed.”
The Gravells needed answers. What was so important about the “sea monster” that would have the authorities this spooked? And what was written on it? Kelly and her family just had to return to the beach.
But before they could get anywhere near the “sea monster”, the beach had been evacuated – and the object was set to be destroyed.
It turned out that the Gravells weren’t the only ones to have encountered the unidentified object that day.
A woman had been walking her dog on the beach and struggled to restrain her curious canine as he lurched toward it. When she noticed there was a chain attached, she alerted the coastguard who immediately called in the experts to identify it.
The Gravells had discovered an unexploded mine from the Second World War. After the best part of a century, the US military explosive had finally washed ashore, posing a threat to any beachgoer that went near it.
Kelly, Gareth, Erin, and Ellis all stood and watched as the bomb squad detonated the device at a safe distance. The family fell silent as they realized how differently things could have gone.
The Gravells walked away from the cloud of smoke with somber expressions. They knew they were very lucky to have escaped alive.
“We were thinking, ‘We’re really glad that didn’t happen while we were at the beach,’” said Kelly. But despite surviving a narrowly-avoided bomb blast, their youngest Ellis revealed far bigger concerns after his close encounter.
“Are the little animals on there OK, Mummy?” said the boy after Kelly assured him that the bomb squad had safely cleared away the crustaceans before setting off the explosive.
“We never thought for one second it was a bomb. The realization… it was just a complete shock for us,” Kelly admitted. “We realize now just how lucky we were.” And their story captured the attention of more than a few residents.
Hundreds of other residents had gathered to watch the big event and clapped and cheered when the mine was safely destroyed by the bomb squad. Oblivious onlookers might have thought there was a firework display going on.
It was the biggest thing to happen in the town since Amelia Earhart landed there in 1928 – and judging by reports, was perhaps even bigger.
Witnesses reported a huge explosion on the far side of the harbor following the controlled detonation. This was no small mine. Had it gone off under other circumstances, the consequences would have been catastrophic.
But despite the shock of what could have happened, the Gravells eventually composed themselves enough to say how they felt after the incident was all over.
After taking a little time to process, Kelly and her family opened up about their experience. The mom of two lightheartedly wrote on Twitter, “So the buoy my kids were jumping on all weekend turns out to be a WWII bomb. Oops.
“I’ve heard of things being washed up on the beach before but nothing like this.” So after the harrowing experience, would the Gravells ever be able to return to their favorite beach spot?
“We’ll definitely think twice before messing with something like that in future,” admitted Kelly, who had been going to the beach herself since she was a little girl.
Local authorities apologized to tourists and residents for having to close the beach to deal with the situation – but what of the mysterious message written on the side of the bomb? What did it say?
It seems we’ll never know what the text covered by the barnacles actually said as neither the bomb squad nor the authorities would reveal it. It could have been merely the model of the bomb or perhaps something political that would have been best left in the depths of the sea.
Wales is a beautiful country. But how excited are you about visiting its beaches now?