East Texas remembers Space Shuttle Columbia on 10th anniversary of accident

Debris found in East Texas after the 2013 Space Shuttle Columbia accident.
Debris found in East Texas after the 2013 Space Shuttle Columbia accident.
Published: Feb. 1, 2013 at 1:31 PM CST|Updated: Apr. 2, 2013 at 1:32 PM CDT
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TYLER, TX (KLTV) - East Texas marks the tenth anniversary Friday of the space shuttle Columbia tragedy and the seven astronauts killed in the accident. Columbia was the oldest space shuttle of the fleet and was returning from its 28th mission when it forever became part of East Texas history.

It was determined a foam strike during liftoff punctured a hole in its wing that later caused the vehicle to break apart during re-entry.

Columbia completed 27 successful missions before her debris rained down over East Texas on Saturday, February 1, 2003.    

All seven astronauts on-board were killed and many East Texans saw and felt the shuttle’s destruction first-hand.

In Tyler, Dr. Scott Lieberman was taking pictures of what he thought would be an exciting image of a normal re-entry. He noticed what appeared to be parallel contrails, but still did not know the true devastation happening above.

Residents in Cherokee County awoke that clear Saturday morning to an explosion, and told KLTV reporters about it later that afternoon. “The whole house was just rattled, and my wife said what do you think that was, I said either a small earthquake or a sonic boom of some sort is what I felt like I told her,” said Darold Dickerson, who found a piece of the shuttle.

The fallout from the shuttle quickly made its way earthward. “I came down across the bridge there, and I saw it laying there. It was smoldering, just a vapor coming off of it,” said S.R. Smith, a Pine Crest Lake resident.

“I just couldn’t believe that it happened close to home, that we were finding stuff close to home,” said Wayne McAnally, who found a piece of the shuttle. “We heard reports that people were finding stuff all around, but it just scary to know that it happened close to home.”

In the days that followed the crash, memorials were created and the media descended on East Texas.

Volunteers and the military searched throughout deep East Texas to locate all the pieces of the debris and plot them with global positioning systems to explain what happened to the shuttle.

“We’re just happy to be helping anyway we can,” said Jonathan Radford, an Alert Academy cadet who went to Nacogdoches County to help look for wreckage in the days following the crash.

“Considering the tragedy yesterday, it is the least we can do.”

And each piece of wreckage became a place for people to say goodbye.

“I wish I could build a memorial here, their memory forever to hold,” recited Betty McGuire, a Douglass resident who found a piece of the shuttle door near her home. “Here in my beautiful country backyard, though their story will never be told.”

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