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Computer error triggers mass rocket launch

Rise of the machines thwarted ... for now

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Americans love their fireworks on Independence Day, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. That's what spectators got on July 4 in San Diego, California, when an errant computer triggered every rocket in the city's annual display to launch at once.

The pyrotechnics were meant to last 18 minutes. Instead, the whole show was over in roughly 15 seconds, after a deafening display that saw all five launch sites blast their missiles into the air simultaneously.

"We apologize for the brevity of the show," the Port of San Diego said in an understatement statement. "Approximately five minutes before the show was to start, a signal was sent to the barges that would set the timing for the rest of the show after the introduction." Although the signal had tested properly earlier, at showtime it triggered the mass launch.

The show was organized by New Jersey-based Garden State Fireworks, which has previously organized Independence Day fireworks displays for New York City and Washington, DC, among other high-profile shows. None had resulted in San Diego's simultaneous pyrogasm.

"There was a malfunction of the firing systems which ignite the fireworks," Garden State Fireworks co-owner August Santore said in an interview with NBC San Diego. "They were scheduled to be programmed for 15-16 minutes, and somehow, some sort of virus must have got into the program."

Although the company has yet to determine the exact nature of the glitch that caused the massive detonation, Santore claims it was definitely due to a software error in the computerized firing systems that ignite the fireworks.

"There was no malfunction in the pyrotechnics, nor was there any human error," Santore told NBC. "It was strictly a program glitch. Something happened in the program, which we're working vigorously to pinpoint."

Despite the malfunctioning system's best efforts, no casualties were reported. ®

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