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B.C. highway crew finds loaded rocket launcher

A loaded rocket launcher is shown near Shawnigan Lake, B.C. One Mountie who responded recognized the self-propelled launcher to be an M72, and that it appeared to have live rocket grenade in the tube. The bomb squad was called and safely removed the deadly weapon

HO/The Canadian Press

Military and police officials are investigating after a tree-clearing crew cutting down the brush along a Vancouver Island highway unearthed a loaded rocket launcher.

Steve Taylor, of Capital Tree Service, said he spotted something odd in the woods along the Malahat highway near Shawnigan Lake, B.C.

"I was up in my bucket limbing some trees and I looked down and I could see, well, the rocket launcher but I didn't know at that point what it was. The colour of it and the shape of it caught my eye. I thought, what a weird looking object," Mr. Taylor said Friday, the day after the strange find.

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He climbed up on the bank where he'd seen it to cut some stumps and noticed writing on the object he'd spotted from on high.

"I kind of cleared it off. There was some moss on it and some underbrush around it," said Taylor, 33. "I cleared it away and that's when I read the writing. It said: To fire, aim, pull pin and press trigger.

"Right then, just by looking at it I kind of had a pretty good idea what it was."

The crew called BC Hydro, which had hired them to clear the trees, and BC Hydro contacted police. As they waited for officers to arrive, the men took a few fun photos posing with the weapon - completely unaware that it had a live round in the tube.

Mr. Taylor said they didn't realize the danger.

"I was dropping big rounds of wood right near it, right beside it. One of the trees I cut down was probably no more than about two or three feet away from it."

One of the officers to respond to the call was a Canadian Forces veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan and immediately recognized the M72 self-propelled rocket launcher.

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Bomb-disposal experts from the military base in Esquimalt were called to safely remove the rocket launcher and Taylor said police dogs were then brought in to search the area for any more weapons or ordnance.

RCMP did not return calls seeking comment.

"It is not known how this rocket launcher came to be at this location," the force said in a statement posted to their website.

"It was located approximately seven metres off the highway in a densely treed area. It appeared as though the rocket launcher had been there for at least six months or longer."

Police said there was no indication who might have owned the heavy duty firepower or why the weapon was left in the bush just metres from the busy highway.

Lieutenant-Commander Nathalie Garcia, spokeswoman for Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, said the rocket launcher is now in the hands of the military.

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"We have similar launchers in our inventory," she said, referring to the Canadian Forces, not necessarily the navy. "Whether that specific one was a Canadian one, that's all part of the investigation."

The M72 is an anti-tank weapon, according to the website Modern Firearms & Ammunition. The site describes it as a "shoulder fired, disposable rocket launcher" of a type that has been in production since 1961.

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