Manhole sized cap blows off end of sand dredging pipe in Solana Beach

Investigation into incident under way

SOLANA BEACH, Calif. - An investigation is under way into a huge explosion that sent people scrambling for cover at a North County beach late Wednesday afternoon.

The beach at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach was quiet on Thursday, as a sand replenishment operation stopped amid an investigation into what caused an endcap on a sand dredging pipe to explode off the end of the pipe.

"That pipe [over there on the left] literally exploded like a bomb right in front of me," said resident Clay Zaccaglini.

According to Zaccaglini, the pipe was hooked up to a barge on that was pumping sand onto the beach Wednesday.

"They discovered that there was a clog in the pipe," said Colleen Windsor of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).

Windsor said the crew followed the usual procedure to clear the clog.  

"They put an endcap on the pipe and they put pressure in the pipe," she said.  

For reasons that are still unclear, the pressure was too much and the cap exploded right off the end.

"There was a huge shockwave that hit me immediately, threw me a little bit, threw my son on the ground," Zaccaglini said.  

Zaccaglini's first and only concern was for his 3-year-old son.

"Little pieces of debris were falling down on top of me and I ran immediately over, jumped on top of my son. He was all I was thinking about, nothing else," Zaccaglini told 10News.

The force of the blast was so powerful that it knocked out part of a window in the lifeguard station above the beach and it shattered a window in a nearby bulldozer.

The barge that was pumping the sand onto the beach is owned by Chicago-based Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company. It picks up sand from a spot off Mission Beach, and for the last couple of months, it's been taking that high-quality sand and putting it onto beaches up and down San Diego County.

But an investigation into what happened Wednesday afternoon has brought the operation to a halt.

"They're looking into … was it too much pressure … what caused the clog and be able to make sure it doesn't happen again," Windsor said.

The endcap was launched high into the air, and the force of the explosion became clear when one looked at where it ended up -- way up on a high bluff, far above the beach.  

No one was hurt, a fact Clay Zaccaglini finds hard to believe.  

"I'm astounded," he said.

10News checked on the safety record of Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company and found one other incident.

In 1992, one of the company's barges was driving new pilings for a bridge in Chicago when it accidentally punched into an unused service tunnel below the Chicago River. It flooded the basements of many buildings in downtown Chicago.

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