Jesse Kennett (l) and Don Kendall (r), the two explosion victims.
So, apparently black powder, or at least its substitute, can indeed kB the whole building. And then it can burn. For quite a while, if you have a whole plant full of it.
Craig Sanborn had a plant full of it, in Colebrook, NH on the Canadian border. He was away at the NRA annual convention in Charlotte, NC, when his plant blew up on 14 May 2010. Two workers were killed, and a third, David Oldham, seriously injured. Now Sanborn is on trial for their deaths, charged with manslaughter and negligent homicide. Prosecutors says he operated the plant in a reckless manner.
The two victims, 56-year-old Donald Kendall, of Colebrook, and 49-year-old Jesse Kennett, of Stratford, were hired just a month before the blast on May 14, 2010, at Sanborn’s Black Mag gunpowder plant in Colebrook.
Scene of the explosion. Investigators have been unable to determine a probable cause.
The force of the explosion shook nearby buildings and sent plumes of black smoke into the air. Dozens of homes were evacuated and firefighters couldn’t get near the blaze for several hours because ammunition was exploding.
Coos County Attorney John McCormick plans to present dozens of witnesses who say Sanborn was reckless in manufacturing, testing and storing black powder and failed to adequately train and protect workers….
McCormick will argue that Sanborn was attempting to fill an “unattainable” order that involved production of more than 2,000 pounds of gunpowder a week at the fledgling plant.
The 2,000 pounds a week contract was for Alliant, which planned to market Black Mag under its own trade name.
A number of instances and allegations of negligence have been excluded by the judge, as prejudicial and not directly relevant to the May explosion. These include a flash fire that injured Oldham in January. Returning to the trial story:
Sanborn owned several ammunition manufacturing plants in Maine dating back to 1999. He closed one in 2009 and later that year moved the operation to Colebrook, near the Canadian border.
Court documents detail numerous allegations of negligence by Sanborn. They include having the gunpowder-making machines too close together and failing to “bunker” them to minimize damage from a possible explosion. The prosecution also says the plant did not have remote operation devices to distance workers from an explosion. McCormick says Sanborn also misrepresented to employees that there was no risk of explosion if the gunpowder ignited.
via Trial set for owner of N.H. gunpowder plant | SeacoastOnline.com.
The product being made was not actually black powder (in fact, it was yellow). It was a black powder substitute called Black Mag’Xp. Chuck Hawks noted that it has quality control, consistency and manufacturing problems (before the factory blew itself out of business). It was based on ascorbic acid and used potassium perchlorate as an oxidizer, so was able to get black powder velocities on reduced loads. Its principal advantage over black powder and other substitutes was reported to be easier post-shooting clean up (we never shot it). However, it’s permanently out of production as Sanborn surrendered his explosives license and signed a consent agreement to never resume explosives or propellant manufacture a few months after the blast. In fact, under the terms of the agreement, he can’t even aet up shop near an explosives manufacturing facility:
In the resolution papers, Sanborn agrees that he will not conduct, establish, own, or manage by himself, with, or through others, any current or future business that is covered anywhere under OSHA’s explosives or process safety management standards if that business employs workers or independent contractors. Additionally, he will have no involvement in any enterprise that has employees if it is located within 1,000 yards of another business that is covered under OSHA’s explosives or process management safety standards.
NH Public Radio has been following the case, although they had nothing from Monday’s opening day of the trial.
Civil suits are also pending against the company that operated the plant, Black Mag; an unrelated company owned by Sanborn, Millennium Designed Muzzleloaders; and Sanborn himself. The attorneys pursuing the civil suits have delayed them until after the criminal trial.
Update I, 3 Oct: none of the NH papers has a Monday update yet, but the San Diego Union Tribune does. And the Colorado Springs Gazette. How weird is that?
Update II, 20 Oct: All the news sources that covered the opening of the trial have dropped it, but it is still going on after three weeks of prosecution testimony. The local Colebrook Sentinel continues to cover the story in depth, but their online presence only includes current-week stories. According to the Sentinel, the trial is expected to go to the jury on Wednesday, the 24th.