Thame is a small village in Laos that lies on the banks of the Banghiang river. It's home to just over 560 people.
The main access to the village is by boat, onto a stretch of sandy beach that sits beneath the school. Here you will find local children playing in the river and families washing their clothes. It's also where HALO discovered a 500lb aircraft bomb.
Footage credits: with thanks to the Una Studio
Thame is located Sepon district, an area that suffered heavy aerial bombing during the Vietnam War, which at its height, saw a plane load of bombs dropped on Laos every eight minutes. Bombing and survey data indicates the likelihood of hundreds of unexploded items being scattered in and around the village. For local families, living with the risk of accidents is a daily reality. In recent years, twelve accidents have been recorded—all involving children. In 2019, two young boys were injured when they unknowingly built a fire for cooking on top of an explosive.
Our teams have already destroyed 1,650 unexploded items around Thame and had just begun work to clear the beach and school area of explosives when the 500lb bomb was unearthed—adjacent to the track that runs up from the beach to the village.
The red dots show bombing sorties, when bombs were dropped during the Vietnam War. The blue dot shows the location of the aircraft bomb.
With the bomb sitting on the main access route into the village, our team set to work to destroy it as quickly and safely as possible. Assisted by the Thame residents, our team spent four days filling 20,000 sandbags to create a protective barrier around the bomb. A wide trench was then dug from its base out towards the river to direct the impact of the blast away from the village. To keep everyone safe, Thame and the surrounding area was evacuated, with our medical team stepping in to move elderly members of the community by ambulance.
Thanks to the support of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) and the UK Government, we were able to mobilise our resources to ensure the bomb was safely destroyed. Although the villagers have returned home, the painstaking work task of clearing other unexploded items from around the village has only just begun.