Florida tourists and residents shocked over loss of shuttle
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 11:55 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 11:55 a.m.
TITUSVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Tourists and residents along Florida's Space Coast expressed shock Saturday after learning that space shuttle Colombia had apparently broke apart over Texas minutes before its scheduled landing in Florida.
John Berger, 61-year-old retiree from Gilroy, Calif., drove into Titusville from central Florida aboard his recreational vehicle to watch the landing scheduled for 9:16 a.m. at the Kennedy Space Center.
"We figured something had gone wrong about twenty after nine. I looked at the wife and she looked at me and we both said 'Something's got to be wrong,'" Berger said.
Ted Kretschmer, a retiree from Ventura, Calif., joined about 200 people at Riverfront Park, a prime viewing area for shuttle launches and landings in Titusville.
"I was watching my watch and it came up on a quarter after and it was supposed to land at 16 after," Kretschmer said. "Sixteen came and went and I said something's wrong."
Kretschmer said some people huddled near a man who listened to a NASA scanner for any information about the shuttle. But as the time ticked by, many people began to fear the worst.
"What struck me after about 10, 15 minutes past the time it was supposed to land, I saw the people on the pier slumped over, slowly walking back depressed," Kretschmer said.
Gov. Jeb Bush was aware of the situation and emergency plans were in place, said Jill Bratina, a Bush spokeswoman.
"This is an absolute tragedy, we have such pride in our space program and our astronauts," she said.
Just over an hour after the shuttle had been expected to land, officials at Kennedy Space Center announced over loud speakers that a statement on the fate of the shuttle would be issued shortly. NASA warned people on the ground in Texas to stay away from any fallen debris.
It was the 113th flight in the shuttle program's 22 years and the 28th flight for Columbia, NASA oldest shuttle. Six Americans and Israel's first astronaut were on board.
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