A 20-foot aluminum boat and at least $1 million in camouflaged marijuana were discovered on a Vandenberg Air Force Base beach Thursday afternoon, leading to a boost in base security.
Base officials were notified of the overturned boat north of Wall Beach just before 1 p.m. Thursday.
“Earlier this afternoon, our defenders discovered what appeared to be a large stash of illegal narcotics on our beach here at Vandenberg Air Force Base,” Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander, said about 5 p.m. Thursday.
The overturned boat’s engine had been removed, but authorities weren’t sure whether it was taken off on purpose or came off when the boat crashed ashore.
“We immediately secured the scene and started searching the beaches and the local area,” Armagno said. “I ordered all facilities to be searched and secured.”
That’s no small task because Vandenberg has some 2,000 facilities across the sprawling 99,000-acre installation.
As a precaution, she also beefed up the security level one notch to Force Protection Condition Bravo with some random searches conducted on base.
Searches of the area failed to turn up any suspect and no weapons were found.
“We have determined that there is no threat to the base and the local community,” she added.
The Air Force Office of Investigation is looking into the incident along with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol and others.
The Air Force handed off the investigation late Thursday to the Department of Homeland Security, which removed the marijuana as evidence and is working to remove the boat.
Authorities have designated the beach a crime scene due to the investigation.
“What it looks like to me are large bags, kind of like dark-colored trash bags, wrapped up and stacked, and actually they have been covered in what looks like an attempt to camouflage them with brush,” Armagno said.
It’s not known when the boat came ashore, but it could have landed Wednesday, authorities said.
Because of the efforts to hide the narcotics, authorities think those involved intended to return — or at least had that plan until realizing they landed on an Air Force base.
“We’re going to be extremely vigilant of the area until it’s cleaned up and secured,” Armagno said.
Vandenberg is the third largest U.S. Air Force base with 35 miles of pristine coastline, yet Thursday’s panga boat incident is apparently the first on its shore.
“We have been advised of panga boats ... north of the base, south of the base, but never before on our own property,” she said.