In their arresting new book, Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Absent Amplitude Shuttle and Her Crew, aloft NASA barrage administrator Michael Leinbach and Jonathan Ward account the draft of amplitude shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003, and the consecutive chase operation, the bigger in U.S. history. This abridged extract focuses on the aboriginal few hours afterwards the accident, which occurred anon afterwards 8 a.m., Texas time, as admiral struggled to apprehend what had happened, and afore an army of citizen volunteers abutting in the search, which would go on for weeks.
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Accident Plus Twenty Minutes
In Tyler, Texas, Jeff Millslagle abstemious up his shoes for a training run for the accessible Austin marathon. A cavernous complete abashed him. As a California native, he at aboriginal anticipation it was an earthquake. But as the babble continued, he accomplished it was clashing annihilation he had anytime heard.
Millslagle was one of the FBI’s arch authoritative citizen agents in Tyler. His aide Peter Galbraith phoned him and asked, “What the hell was that?” They speculated that conceivably one of the pipelines active through the breadth had exploded. It seemed the alone acceptable explanation. It was absolutely not tornado weather. No added accustomed abnormality could accept acquired such a abiding banging.
Millslagle phoned the Smith Canton sheriff’s office to see if they had any letters of abnormal activity. They arrested and phoned back, “It was the amplitude shuttle reentering.” That didn’t assume plausible, aback the shuttle’s sonic booms wouldn’t be aural at sea akin until the shuttle was able-bodied east of them. The sheriff’s appointment alleged afresh a few account later. “The shuttle bankrupt up overhead. There are letters that Lake Palestine is on fire.”
Millslagle angry on his TV and saw video of Columbia disintegrating. He anon phoned Galbraith and told him they bare to accommodated at the FBI appointment in Tyler.
In Sabine County, Texas, Greg and Sandra Cohrs sat bottomward to breakfast and angry on their television. Letters began advancing in that Columbia had “exploded” over Dallas. Grass fires were arising up in the area. Greg said to Sandra, “I bet we’ll be complex in this afore it’s over.” US Forest Account personnel, behindhand of their job titles, about were alleged in to advice acknowledge to all-risk or all-hazard incidents—wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and alike agitator attacks—in their bounded communities and beyond the nation.
Cohrs alleged the commune blaze administration administrator to acquisition out if he should address for work. The administrator said he was cat-and-mouse for a alarm and told him to angle by. In the meantime, Cohrs able to do his accepted Saturday backyard work, but again a alarm aback abreast him that he would be on flight assignment that day as a spotter.
Cohrs brought up the Intellicast acclimate alarm website on his computer as allotment of his accepted preflight routine. Despite the bright dejected sky above, the alarm angel showed a advanced swath of article in the air forth a northwest to southeast clue from Nacogdoches, Texas, through Hemphill and branch on against Leesville, Louisiana. The bigger absorption of alarm allotment was centered over Sabine County, and the billow appeared to be boring afloat arctic and east. He accomplished that the acclimate alarm was acrimonious up the bits from Columbia that was still falling to the ground. He took several awning snapshots of the alarm display.
Accident Plus Thirty Minutes
Things were activity crazy in East Texas. In his appointment in Hemphill, Sheriff Maddox badly bare to amount out what was draft in Sabine County. A agent had aloof appear on duty, and Maddox anon accomplished him to the arctic end of the county. He phoned law administrator Doug Hamilton from the US Forest Account and asked him to analysis on a accessible alternation derailment abreast Bronson in the western ancillary of the county. Maddox hopped in his car to arch for the adjacent accustomed gas pipeline. His bagman radioed him and said, “NASA aloof alleged and said it wasn’t a activity explosion. That was aloof the shuttle activity over and breaking the complete barrier. You can go about your approved duties.”
Maddox collection over to Hemphill’s adolescence amphitheatre to see what was activity on at the livestock weigh-in. Bodies asked him what it was that had anesthetized overhead. Maddox told them it was the shuttle breaking the complete barrier. One woman said, “But they haven’t heard from it in fifteen minutes.”
Maddox knew article was wrong. He got aback in his car. The bagman radioed that bodies were calling in from all over the canton about items aqueous bottomward from the bright dejected sky, breaking timberline limbs, and hitting the ground.
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Phone calls began cloudburst in to the town’s advance blaze administration in accession to those advancing in to the sheriff’s office. “There are things falling out of the sky!” “Something aloof hit the road!” Again account of Columbia’s draft came through. The firefighters debated for several account about what to do. Volunteers started branch out to investigate the calls and defended the items actuality found.
Hemphill City Manager Don Iles accustomed at the blaze abject as a radio address came in from a Texas Administration of Public Safety (DPS) administrator on US 96 abreast Bronson. “There’s a big metal article in the average of the highway. It gouged the road. I’m attractive at it, but I don’t apperceive what to accomplish of it.”
The bagman asked if it had any anecdotic marks or numbers. The DPS trooper said, “Yeah, but it’s alone partial.” He apprehend aback the numbers to the dispatcher, who again told him to wait. The trooper said he would break at the arena by the article and accumulate cartage from active over it.
A few account later, the bagman came aback on and said, “I’ve aloof been in draft with NASA. Please do not aces up or draft any of the material, because it could be radioactive or poisonous.” There was asleep blackout on the added end of the radio as the trooper advised his situation.
Doug Hamilton accustomed at the armpit of the appear alternation derailment, about bristles afar from his house, but there were no trains in afterimage anywhere. He alleged aback to the sheriff’s appointment and was asked to arch to the draft analysis on US 96.
Sheriff Maddox and Hamilton met the DPS trooper at the scene. The metal article was the decay accumulator catchbasin from Columbia’s aggregation module—the aboriginal accepted allotment of the shuttle begin in Sabine County.
With the attributes of the bearings now confirmed, the draft arena in Sabine Canton acutely became a federal incident. Hamilton, as a federal law administration officer, was now the man in charge.
Hamilton photographed the tank, and he and the others cordoned off the breadth with abomination arena tape. They recorded its GPS position and alleged it aback in to the dispatcher. Maddox and Hamilton had no admiral accessible to bouncer the wreckage. The three men collection off calm in Hamilton’s government car to investigate the abutting appear sighting.
Someone overheard their radio report. Aback admiral came aback afterwards in the day to retrieve the decay tank, it was gone.
Hamilton, Maddox, and the trooper abutting responded to a alarm from a woman’s acreage alfresco Bronson. She had begin fractional animal charcoal in her pasture. The sheriff went to the farmhouse and asked the ancestors for a breadth to awning the remains. Addition adapted that they be removed from the pasture. Hamilton refused. “No, we ain’t movin’ nothin’! This is a abomination scene.” He now knew that the force of the bearings adapted added than aloof demography photos and recording GPS locations. He photographed the charcoal and placed a sheriff’s administration administrator on guard.
Hamilton and Maddox collection from arena to arena for the abutting several hours, affair DPS troopers at the breadth of anniversary appear sighting. A few allegation appeared to be fractional charcoal of the crew, but best were pieces of the shuttle.
At one house, an aluminum I-beam had collapsed through the barn roof, burst through the accurate floor, and active itself in the ground. This eventually angry out to be the alone structural draft abiding anywhere in Sabine County.
At that time, Hamilton was the alone law administrator in Sabine Canton who had a agenda camera. Afterwards visiting the aboriginal six or seven scenes, Hamilton had already abounding two abstracts disks with photos. He accomplished it would be physically absurd for him to appointment all the bits sightings, abnormally now that he knew bodies were on the ground. And there were not abundant law admiral in Sabine Canton to bouncer every allotment of bits actuality discovered.
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Accident Plus One Hour
Astronauts Mark Kelly and Jim Wetherbee were at their burghal Houston homes aback acquaintance with Columbia was lost. Both anon knew the bearings was dire. They rushed to the astronaut appointment in Building 4 South at Johnson Amplitude Center.
As quintessential blazon A personalities, astronauts are biased against acting to accompany a bearings beneath control. Patience can be a boxy advantage for them to exercise, abnormally aback the lives of their colleagues are on the line. While they accessible official orders, the astronauts at JSC took whatever accomplishments they could. Mark Kelly and amateur Mike Acceptable brought out the draft account and advised the adapted actions. Working through the list, Kelly and Acceptable fabricated buzz calls, and aural fifteen minutes, about fifty bodies were in the astronaut appointment appointment room. Discussions began on how to acreage out the astronauts to locate Columbia’s crew.
Several of the astronauts absitively to arch to Ellington Field, about centermost amid JSC and Houston. Ellington was the home abject for the T-38 jets the astronauts flew about the country. Wetherbee collection home to aces up his flight clothing and backpack his abrupt bag, and again collection to Ellington to anticipate orders.
Kelly acicular out to Andy Thomas, the agent arch of the astronaut office, that the draft affairs never envisioned the shuttle advancing bottomward aural a two-hour drive of Houston. Kelly said, “We absolutely charge to accelerate somebody to the arena adapted now.”
Thomas said, “Okay. You go.”
Kelly advised his options for accepting arctic to the draft arena as bound as possible. He phoned Harris Canton constable Bill Bailey and requested a helicopter. Bailey fabricated a few calls and phoned back. “I’m sending a car to aces you up. The bank bouncer is activity to booty you up there.” Kelly affective astronaut Greg “Ray J” Johnson to accompany him. They accustomed at Ellington Acreage and boarded the cat-and-mouse helicopter.
As they took off, the pilot asked, “Where are we going?”
Kelly said, “I heard there’s bits advancing bottomward at Nacogdoches. Let’s go to the airport there.”
Accident Plus Three Hours
Mark Kelly’s bank bouncer helicopter set bottomward on Hemphill aerial school’s football field. Kelly went into the academy gym, breadth a basketball bold was in progress. He begin a policeman and asked to be taken to the town’s adventure command center. The policeman escorted him to the firehouse, about one-quarter mile south. Kelly alien himself to the FBI’s Terry Lane, who had additionally aloof accustomed in town.
About three hours afterwards the accident, a alarm had appear in apropos a analysis of article abnormal on Beckcom Road, a few afar southwest of town. A jogger had apparent what he aboriginal anticipation to be the anatomy of a deer or agrarian animal abreast the roadway.
Kelly and Lane rode with Sheriff Maddox to the site. They met Tommy Scales from the Administration of Public Safety, who had aloof appear from addition bits arena nearby.
They encountered what was acutely the charcoal of one of the Columbia’s crew. Maddox radioed John “Squeaky” Starr, the bounded burial director, to appear to the arena to abetment in the recovery. Kelly additionally requested that a abbey appear to the armpit to accomplish a account afore the charcoal were confused or photographed. While they were waiting, addition accompaniment trooper covered the aggregation affiliate with his raincoat.
“Brother Fred” Raney, the pastor at Hemphill’s Aboriginal Baptist Church, had aloof alternate to the firehouse to address that he had apparent fractional charcoal of a Columbia aggregation affiliate in a pasture. Raney collection out to accompany the admiral aggregate at the Beckcom Alley site. He conducted a abbreviate canonizing account for the collapsed astronaut.
By now, the account media had accustomed in the breadth and were ecology badge radio frequencies. They intercepted the alarm about the Beckcom Alley remains, and a account helicopter abounding of reporters flew over the scene, aggravating to get video of the accretion on the ground. They were low enough, and their motion advised enough, that it was bright to the bodies on the amphitheatre that the pilot was aggravating to use the helicopter’s rotor ablution to draft the cape from the aggregation member’s remains. Lane and two troopers stood on the corners of the covering to accumulate it in place. One of the troopers acclimated “an absolute gesture” to accomplish it bright to the pilot that the helicopter had to leave the breadth immediately.
Lane afterwards said, “I don’t apperceive if a helicopter has anytime been attempt bottomward by a DPS pistol, but they were actual abutting to that happening.”
The troopers acclaimed and appear the appendage cardinal of the helicopter. Anon thereafter, the FAA ordered a acting flight brake over all of East Texas.
After the charcoal were placed in a hearse, Kelly, Lane, and Raney confused on to a abode abreast Bronson, breadth fractional charcoal of addition aggregation affiliate had been reported. The media had intercepted those radio calls, too, and several reporters were on the arena aback the admiral arrived. From that point forward, the command aggregation began application cipher words and allurement cartage whenever aggregation charcoal were actuality investigated.
Lane was a adept of the FBI’s acknowledgment to abounding alarming accidents, including the TWA 800 blast and the World Trade Centermost attacks. His orders in East Texas were to assignment as allotment of a aggregation of four individuals: himself, a argumentative anthropologist, a pathologist from El Paso, and a Texas Ranger. Whenever a alarm came saying, “We anticipate we begin something,” the team’s role was to ascertain how acceptable it was that the award absolutely was animal remains. The aggregation deployed all all-important assets to accomplish a accretion of any charcoal that were apparently or acceptable to be human.
Making the aboriginal two aggregation charcoal recoveries in the amplitude of a few hours set the accent and agreement for consecutive recoveries. From that point forward, whenever accessible aggregation charcoal were located, the FBI would be alleged to the arena immediately. An astronaut accompanied Lane and his aggregation to investigate every sighting, afterwards exception.
A Texas Ranger or DPS officer, Brother Fred, and a burial administrator (either Squeaky Starr or his son Byron) would accommodated the FBI affirmation accretion aggregation and astronaut at the site. Once the accumulation was assembled, the arena was angry over to the astronaut to footfall advanced and administer over the accretion of his or her colleague. Aback the astronaut was ready, he or she would arresting Brother Fred to approach, who again performed a abrupt account alms a few words on the ballsy cede of the aggregation member, account assertive verses from Scripture, and again adage a prayer. The astronaut again appear ascendancy of the arena to the FBI affirmation team. The charcoal were placed in a anatomy bag and taken to a hearse. Squeaky or Byron Starr would again carriage the aggregation member’s charcoal to a cat-and-mouse doctor.
Brother Fred abstruse that Columbia’s administrator Rick Husband had recited Joshua 1:9 to his aggregation as they ill-fitted up afore their flight: “Have I not allowable you? Be able and of acceptable courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Brother Fred congenital that ballad into all of his casework in the field. He and Kelly additionally researched adapted words to say for Hindi and Hebrew services. All the casework delivered in the acreage afterwards the aboriginal day included Christian, Hebrew, and Hindi prayers.
Lane was acutely confused by the way the astronauts handled the recoveries. He knew how angrily difficult it charge accept been for them to see their accompany and colleagues in that condition. It was a assignment far alfresco the ambit of what any astronaut would commonly be asked to perform. The backbone of the astronauts’ religious aesthetics additionally afraid Lane at first. Again he accomplished that if these bodies “strap a actor pounds of bang to their butts for addition abroad to light, they’d bigger accept a boss abysmal faith.”
Accident Plus Bristles Hours
President Bush addressed the nation from the White Abode Cabinet Allowance at 2:04 p.m. Eastern Time. “My adolescent Americans,” he began, “this day has brought abhorrent account and abundant anguish to our country. At nine a.m., Mission Ascendancy in Houston absent acquaintance with our amplitude shuttle Columbia. A abbreviate time later, bits was apparent falling from the skies aloft Texas…
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“The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors.”
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