Two Australian and British bomb specialists have been killed in a blast in a rented apartment in the capital city of Honiara in the Solomon Islands.
Australian Trent Lee and Briton Luke Atkinson died inside a residential block of flats in Tasahe in West Honiara between 7.30pm and 8pm on Sunday night, Solomons police and their aid agency have confirmed.
The residential flat was also reportedly used as a project office for the bomb survey team. It is not yet known why explosives were present inside the building.
The two men were working for Norwegian non-government organisation, Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), conducting a non-technical survey on the contamination of unexploded ordnances in the Solomons dating from WW11.
Funded by the US State Department, the NPA works alongside the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, to develop an effective nation-wide information collection system.
The NPA’s Secretary General Henriette Killi Westhrin said: “We are devastated by what has happened, and for the loss of two good colleagues. Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to their families, relatives and staff”.
Inspector Clifford Tunuki said the blast area had been sealed off and officers of the explosive ordnance disposal team and forensics department were at the scene.
“We call on members of the public in the Tasahe area to please stay well away from the area of the incident and allow RSIPF officers to do their work as we investigate this tragic incident,” he said.
Both men were bomb specialists working for an overseas-funded project that maps unexploded bomb sites for later disposal by specialist police teams.
The Solomons Star newspaper reported that following the blast, residents rushed to the scene to find the men seriously injured. The two men were rushed to Honiara’s National Referral Hospital.
One of the men died at the scene while the other was confirmed dead at the hospital.
NPA deputy secretary-general Per Nergaard confirmed in a statement that Mr Lee and Mr Atkinson had died in the blast.
“This is a tragic accident. 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,” he said.
“The safety and security of our staff is our highest priority.”
The NPA has 1850 deminers working in 19 countries worldwide.
Honiara is on the island of Guadalcanal, which was a major battleground when US forces invaded to dislodge the Japanese occupiers in World War II.
A program has been underway to clear unexploded ordnance in Honiara before the 2023 Pacific Games.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been contacted for comment.