Athens Review, Athens, Texas

Local News

January 30, 2013

SPACE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA TRAGEDY: 10 YEARS LATER

East Texas became a debris field as world sadly watched

Athens — Former Henderson County Sheriff Ronny Brownlow’s recollections of February 1, 2003, begin with the sound of a boom and a rattle of windows.

But the noise heard that Saturday morning wasn’t from outside the door or down the street. It was the sound of the Space Shuttle Columbia exploding and breaking to pieces 200,000 feet overhead.

“I was at the house when I heard it,” said Brownlow, who retired in 2008. “I had no idea what it was until the office called. For the first few hours our dispatch center and patrol deputies were busier than anybody.”

As for what was left of the spacecraft, its contents and crew drifted to the earth below and scattered over a wide section of Northeast Texas — including southern Henderson County.

“Most of it was found south and east of Athens. Naturally officials wanted to salvage as much as they could to get it put back together and find out what actually happened,” Brownlow said. Sheriff’s Office records show 65 calls reporting possible sightings of Columbia debris with 36 confirmed as shuttle remains.

“One of the things I remember is there was a piece found at the school in Cross Roads. People, including myself, didn’t know whether or not it might be contaminated. The superintendent was concerned about whether or not to open the school.”

Brownlow said State Senator (and now Agriculture Commissioner) Todd Staples was helpful in getting the Cross Roads debris collected. Staples had come home to Palestine for a weekend break in the legislative session. His restful Saturday soon turned into one of the longest days of his tenure as state senator.

“I was reading bills and things and heard the explosion,” Staples said. “I looked out the window and saw that nothing looked off, so I went back to work.”

About 20 minutes later, he was informed by telephone that the Columbia had exploded overhead.  

“I phoned my dad who lived out on our homeplace in the country and asked what was going on out there,” Staples said. “He said the cattle were stampeding because of the loud boom.”

Staples could see from television news reports that East Texas was the center of post shuttle crash attention.

“It was predominantly in Senate District 3,” Staples said, referring to his own district at the time. “I went to the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office and obviously there was a lot of commotion. The sheriff’s assistant stuck out the phone and said ‘You’ve got to take this. It’s Fox News.’”

A Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper escorted Staples to various places in East Texas where remains of the Columbia had been found.

“We pulled up to the Chinquapen Baptist Church on a rural FM road,” Staples said. “There were about 40 people assembled with blue jackets that said “FBI” Emergency Recovery Team on them. As we drove up a hearse was leaving the facility.”

Staples said he is still impressed by the way East Texans pulled together to do what was necessary to recover the Columbia remains. He is still moved to think of the loss of astronauts aboard the doomed craft.

“They were modern day pioneers,” Staples said.

Despite the many sightings of debris in the Henderson County area, the bulk of the remains came to rest in far East Texas and the Nacogdoches area.

“A lot of that went down in those forests,” Brownlow said. “They had a lot of open area to cover that they called and Deputy Jim Ellis took several members of the (Henderson County) Sheriff’s Posse and took their horses down there to help look for it. They were there for several days and were actually recognized by NASA for their efforts in the recovery.”

1
Text Only
Local News
  • (Left to right back row) Elizabeth Coats, Bailey Ficco, Emma Shepherd, (front row) Mary Ficco, Emma Routh.jpg Girls from LaRue shave their heads to make a difference

    The statistics are alarming. More children are lost to cancer in the United States than any other disease. Before they turn 20, about one in 285 children in the U.S. will have cancer. Worldwide, a child is diagnosed every three seconds.
    Four girls from LaRue have taken a stand against these numbers, and have shaved for the brave.
    Bailey Ficco, Mary Ficco, Elizabeth Coats and Emma Shepherd headed to Boston on Saturday, July 27 for an event to help raise money for cancer research. 

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif Tracks lead to alleged thieves of TVEC property

    According to Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt, it was at 12:12 a.m., July 30, that the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office received a call of an alarm at the newly-constructed Trinity Valley Electric Substation located off Farm-to-Market 2329 near Eustace.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif Alzheimer’s forum to teach about disease

    The fact is over 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's. The Alzheimer's Association says “every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer's. The disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.”
    Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly, and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. 

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif Give-and-take session to discuss problem of underage drinking

    The East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse’s Henderson County Coalition Partnership invites local citizens to take part, Monday, in a give-and-take session on the problem of underage drinking.
    The meeting will be held at the Cain Center in the Cain Room, begins at 5:30 p.m. and is expected to last about an hour. Local officials have been scheduled to take part in discussing the problems regarding alcohol. It’s a concern that affects all parts of the county.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif July proves cooler in 2014

    July is gone, and the weather is leaving a much more favorable impression than its usual swelter.
    The National Weather Service reports the cool front that came through the area on the last day of July, brought more showers to the area, and held the highs in the low 80s. The weekend forecast calls for temperatures to remain several degrees below normal through Sunday.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif AMWA to meet Wednesday

    An Athens Municipal Water Authority project that was moved off the front burner when its dispute with the City of Athens heated up is scheduled for discussion when AMWA meets Wednesday.
    The AMWA board of directors is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. in the Athens City Council chambers, located in the City Hall Annex on Pinkerton Street. On the agenda is to discuss and act upon proceeding with long-range plans to create AMWA offices and meeting facilities.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif A look at the practicalities of AISD’s 2015 campus realignment

    Athens ISD board members’ approval of the proposed campus realignment comes one full year in advance of the decision’s effective date. The timing gives the public as well as district staff and administration opportunity to adjust and prepare for the change.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • 8-1 Athens Rotary.JPG Hirsch speaks at Athens Rotary Thursday

    Henderson County Extension Agent Rick Hirsch spoke at the Athens Rotary Club weekly meeting on Thursday. Hirsch said unlike 2013, this year is a great year to grow anything. He also commented it was a good year to be in the cow business. Welcoming Hirsch to the Rotary Club are Rotary President Kelly Driskell and Rotarian John Trent.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • DSC_0005.JPG Hydrating first responders

    First responders were invited Wednesday to the Athens Brookshire’s grocery to celebrate a promotion formulated by the store.  When customers purchase five 32-ounce bottles of Gatorade, they will receive 200 points. Customers are encouraged to donate the Gatorade to first responders. The promotion will last one month. Shown, from left, are Brookshire’s Store Manager Charles Beasley, Athens Police Department Patrolman Wesley Hoover, APD Cpl. Billy Westover, APD Assistant Chief Rodney Williams, APD Lt. Jeremy Hugghins, APD Patrolman Taylor Chancellor, APD Sgt. Eddie Smith, APD Chief Buddy Hill, Athens Fire Department Firefighter Brian Davis, AFD Firefighter Aaron Munn and AFD Firefighter Payton Lambe.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif HC fine-tuning application to get CETZ funds

    It’s been three months since Henderson County got word that money has been allocated from the Texas Department of Transportation in the form of a County Energy Transportation Zone grant, but Commissioners Court is still fine-tuning its application to get the funds.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Renewed Violence Taking Toll on Gaza Residents 2 Americans Detained in North Korea Seek Help US Employers Add 209K Jobs, Rate 6.2 Pct House GOP Optimistic About New Border Bill Gaza Truce Unravels; Israel, Hamas Trade Blame Raw: Tunisia Closes Borders With Libya Four Rescued From Crashed Plane Couple Channel Grief Into Soldiers' Retreat WWI Aviation Still Alive at Aerodrome in NY Raw: Rescuers at Taiwan Explosion Scene Raw: Woman Who Faced Death Over Faith in N.H. Clinton Before 9-11: Could Have Killed Bin Laden Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction
Twitter Updates