Agencies have been working to clear bombs in the area ahead of the 2023 Pacific Games, which will be hosted by the Solomon Islands

By Rachel DeSantis
September 21, 2020 12:08 PM
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Credit: Royal Solomon Islands Police Force/Facebook

Two men working to help rid the Solomon Islands of unexploded bombs left behind during World War II were killed on Sunday after one of the bombs exploded, authorities said.

The victims were working for the non-government organization Norwegian People’s Aid when the “tragic accident” occurred in the South Pacific nation, located near Australia, NPA said in a statement.

The victims were identified as Australian citizen Trent Lee, 40, and Stephen “Luke” Atkinson, a 57-year-old dual citizen of Great Britain and New Zealand.

“This is a tragic accident,” the statement read. “So far, we know that there has been an explosion with fatal consequences. Our main priority now is to offer assistance to relatives and colleagues, and to clarify what has happened.”

NPA said its activities on the island have been temporarily paused as the incident undergoes an investigation with help from the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

The organization has been helping the local government develop a database to identify the locations of the “extensive amounts of explosive remnants of war contamination” dating back to World War II, according to the statement.

Decades on, the Solomon Islands remain “heavily contaminated” by bombs, which can still kill or seriously injure locals, and are often found in city construction sites, coral reefs, farms, forests and gardens in the suburbs, where children can find and play with them.

Inspector Clifford Tunuki of the local police force said in a statement that authorities do not know exactly what happened on Sunday, but that police believe Lee and Atkinson had several unexploded bombs with them, and may have been working to disarm them.

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“We have now moved all other unexploded ordinances discovered at the NPA residence at Tasahe to Hell’s Point as of this morning so the residence is now safe for our investigators to do their work,” Tunuki said.

Lee was remembered by a friend as a “modern day MacGyver” who had been working for the NPA for about six months as he waited for government approval to start building toward his dream of establishing an ecolodge.

“He has got to be one of the smartest people in this world,” friend and business partner Tony Bartlett told the Sydney Morning Herald. “This guy, he built his own cellular tower, his own generator… There’s nothing this man couldn’t do.”

The city in which he and Atkinson were killed is on the island of Guadalcanal, which, in 1942, was the site of a series of major battles between the U.S. and Japanese forces that ultimately “proved the tipping point in the Pacific War,” according to the U.S. Navy.

Agencies have been working to clear bombs in the area ahead of the 2023 Pacific Games, which will be hosted by the Solomon Islands, the Associated Press reported.