An elite Special Forces squad has been called to a hot fry factory after a production line worker picked up a grenade.
The device was unearthed from a farm in Matamata and delivered to the East TÄmaki Mr Chips factory like a potato destined for French fries.
But a sniper-eyed worker spotted the pomegranate among masses of potatoes early in the chip-making process on Tuesday.
It was nestled among 28 tonnes of Ranger Russet delivered by truck to the factory in Auckland’s industrial south.
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An investigation revealed that it was a training version of a Mills bomb â a common World War II hand grenade â which contained no explosives.
Richard Teurukura of the night shift snatched the device from the “potato receiving area”, where potatoes are transferred from delivery trucks to the factory conveyor belt.
Teurukura stood at the start of the conveyor belt looking for stones that are picked up from the field as part of the largely automated harvesting process.
At first he thought the object was a large stone. But after removing the excess mud from the pineapple, he saw the grooves and realized it was something else.
A photo provided to Thing showed that the 80-year-old rusty pomegranate had evolved buried to look like a muddy potato.
Teurukura stopped the treadmill and called an engineer who had “seen a lot of war movies” and identified the object as a grenade.
The bomb was caught among a delivery of 100,000 potatoes at 3:30 a.m. and hadn’t even made it inside the factory past the outside ‘potato receiving area’.
Roland Spitaels, operations manager at the Mr Chips factory, said it was the first weapon found on the line in the factory’s 30-year history.
He was proud of how his team handled the situation and grateful that no one was hurt.
“It looked a lot like a muddy potato originally.
“The guys were really calm and collected and they reacted extremely professionally,” he said.
The workers called the police and isolated the grenade by placing it on a concrete sleeper in the parking lot. They taped off the area and put up cones to prevent anyone from approaching.
The police arrived shortly after 4 a.m. They called in the New Zealand Defense Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, which operates under the NZSAS banner and arrived shortly thereafter.
The bomb disposal team X-rayed the grenade and found it to be a dud â a practice grenade used for throwing practice.
“I think it’s pretty remarkable that he picked it up, hats off to him [Teurukura] for keeping calm about it all,â Spitaels said.
“The guys took the right safety precautions but there was still extreme interest.”
Even if Teurukura had missed the grenade, Spitaels said, it would have been taken out elsewhere.
“You sometimes find pebbles and other bits that shouldn’t be with the potatoes, we have a whole cleaning process,” he said.
Spitaels took a photo of the grenade and laminated posters for staff in case there were more.
He said unexploded ordinances from World War I were common on French and Belgian potato farms.
“I would never have expected it in New Zealand.”
He said the police sergeant told him it was only the second discovered in ten years.
Historian Glyn Harper said Mills’ bombshell was common and the training version would have been given to all Home Guard units nationwide.
“I think it’s probably a stray that was used by the Home Guard,” he said.
Harper was unsure if the grenade was made in New Zealand, but said it would have been fairly easy to make and was used for training well into the 1970s.
“They’re very common and wouldn’t be that dangerous, but you have to treat them with caution,” he said.
The grenade is now in the hands of the police who are investigating, but Spitaels would like to recover it for the factory’s trophy room.
“It made the evening more interesting than the one we normally have,” he said.