Tragedy struck on 31 May 1999 on Aegna island just off the coast of Tallinn, where teenage students of three schools of the capital city were on a field trip to mark the end of the school year at the same time. An explosion took place at 17:40 on the island, killing an 8th grade student of Kopli Art School and injuring six students of the same school, all aged 15 or 16.
One of the surviving Kopli Art School students later recounted in hospital that their group had separated from the rest of the classmates right after coming to the island and was wandering on their own. At some point, they started making a fire, and one of the boys threw in an old shell he had found among the rocks on the beach. “We all thought why not throw it in the fire. The girls protested at first, said it could go off, but I had a look at it, and my expert judgement was that it was pure iron, it would not explode, but… First, we kept away from the fire, but nothing happened, and we went off to walk around the island. About two hours later we came back and saw some liquid had leaked out of the bomb. I just heard someone say, ‘Now it’s gonna go off”, and then it did. I remember myself flying backwards sort of in slow motion,” the boy told Eesti Päevaleht newspaper.
The fatal projectile was a 122-mm high-explosive fragmentation shell made after World War II. “The boys threw the shell in the fire to make an impression, and it flew into pieces in a couple of hours. What happened, to be more precise, was explosive burning. Had she shell actually exploded, all of them would be dead,” Arno Pugonen, counsellor in the Explosive Ordinance Centre of the Rescue Board, explained later.
These days, the probability of being injured in an explosion in Estonia is much lower than ever before. While in 1995, at the peak of bloody criminal underground wars, there were 81 explosions in Estonia, which killed 10 and injured 26 people, by the middle of the following decade these sad figures had decreased more than tenfold. In the last decade, there have been 1–2 explosions in the entire country per year.
However, you need to be cautious around explosive ordinance dating back to World War I and World War II because this is something that can still be accidentally found in Estonia in great numbers. In 2017, EOD specialists received as many as 833 calls concerning explosive finds and defused 4,120 explosive devices.