SAN DIEGO -- The company hired to put on the annual "Big Bay Boom" fireworks display blamed Wednesday's spectacular failure on bad software.
August Santore, co-owner of Garden State Fireworks, told Fox 5 News that the problem was caused by a software glitch or possibly a computer virus that was downloaded into the firing control system.
"When we sent the signal to start the program four minutes and five seconds prior to the event starting, somehow it opened the circuits, and everything ignited at one time," Santore said. "It's the first time it's ever happened. We've done thousands of displays similar to this."
As a result, the Port of San Diego's Independence Day fireworks extravaganza was over before it was officially scheduled to start. Three impressive fountains of light, sparks and smoke lit up San Diego Bay minutes before 9 p.m. The spectacle was captured on the Fox Sports Grill camera on top of the Hilton Bayfront Hotel. The burst lasted for 33 seconds, then nothing.
The entire battery of explosives on three of the four launch barges was launched at the same time, due to a "premature ignition,'' Santore said.
Hundreds of thousands of people had lined the bay to watch the annual display. Many had staked out prime viewing spots for hours. As rockets from other fireworks shows in Coronado and Mission Bay could be seen going off in the distance, it slowly dawned on anxious spectators that something had gone very wrong with the Big Bay Boom.
Port officials issued a statement two hours after the debacle saying signals between the fireworks command post and the four barges had been tested in the hours and minutes leading up to the 9 p.m. show.
"All these signals tested properly according to Garden State Fireworks, the company that provides the show,'' the statement said.
Garden State's technicians were working with technicians from the company that makes the computerized firing system to determine exactly what caused the malfunction, Santore said. They spent all night testing the system trying to repeat the failure. They have ruled out human operator error and are focusing on the control software that was loaded into the firing system for the San Diego show, he said. An answer on what happened is not expected till at least mid-July.
"We want to come up with a solution that this is 100 percent what happened," he said. "This is what I do for a living. To me no one could be more disappointed."
Santore said he felt terrible about disappointing so many people and accepted complete responsibility for the failure. Garden State would negotiate a fair settlement with San Diego officials to make good on botched show, he said.
More than 500,000 people were expected to line the bay for the big blast. "It took 25 minutes to get the word out'' that the entire fireworks show had blown at once, said the Coast Guard's Dann.