Man brings vintage rocket to Hancock Air Base

A patrol car blocks Molloy Road Monday afternoon / photo: Alex Dunbar

Hancock Field was put on alert Monday afternoon when Umberto Panico of Syracuse arrived at the main gate off Molloy Road and said he had a rocket in the backseat of his pickup truck.

"At that time the security officer stopped him and basically we evacuated the area. Shortly afterwards, Commander Col. Bradley evacuated the entire base," said Asst. Vice Wing Commander Col. Greg Semmel.

Molloy Road was shut down to traffic for several hours until a Explosive Ordinance Disposal team from Fort Drum was able to examine the T-22 World War II era rocket. The rocket was determined to be safe.

The Sheriff's department says Panico told deputies he had purchased the rocket yesterday at the regional market in Syracuse and believed it was safe.

"Basically he was just trying to assess what he had in his possession so he went to a military base," said Col. Semmel.

Hancock Field reopened Monday at about 7:40pm. Undersheriff Warren Darby said that while the military would have been called in to examine the rocket - anyone who finds something they believe to be dangerous should call 911 rather than bring it to a base.

"By all means, any type of explosive or what appears to be an explosive, hand grenade, that type of thing, they need to call 911 - we'll get out team out there to explore it," said Darby.

As of right now Panico is not facing any charges for bringing the rocket to Hancock Field.

Monday evening update:

A WWII T-22 rocket brought to the Hancock Air Base poses no harm, according to a Fort Drum Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team that says the rocket is inert.

East Malloy Road, which was shutdown for a number of hours as officials investigated the rocket, is now back open.

Onondaga County Sheriff's deputies are now providing new information about how the problem started in the first place.

Sheriff's say around 2:45pm, Umberto Panico, 57, of Syracuse, arrived at the entrance to the Hancock Air Base. He stopped at the security checkpoint and told officials he had a rocket in the back seat of his pickup truck. Sheriff's say Panico told security personnel he believe the rocket was inert.

Security personnel then evacuated Hancock Air Base and called the sheriff's office.

Sheriff's say Panico cooperated with officials throughout the ordeal. He told investigators he bought the WWII rocket on Sunday at the Central New York Regional Market on Park Street.

Panico was not in violation of any laws and will not face any charges.

Original story from Monday afternoon:

A local air base has been locked down after a man brought a possibly explosive weapon onto the grounds Monday afternoon.

According to Major Jeff Brown of Hancock Air Base in Syracuse, a man brought what he said was a vintage World War II rocket to the base to get confirmation on what exactly it was. The Onondaga County Sheriff's Office says the man had the item in the back of his pickup truck. The man says he bought the item at a flea market, and police say he has been cooperative as they question him.

Out of precaution, Brown says the Air National Guard is treating the device as if it could be live ammunition. They say they do not know for sure, but are being cautious, and have set up a 300 meter perimeter around the device.

Brown says an explosive ordinance disposal team at Fort Drum has been notified of the event.

East Molloy Road is closed off in both directions, from Thompson Road to Falso Drive, about a quarter of a mile from the base entrance while the device is investigated.

Columbia College's website says classes are cancelled this evening, but the school plans to reopen Tuesday morning at 9:00. Columbia College is located on the air base.

A Hancock International Airport spokesperson says airport operations have not been affected by the events at the air base.