F-15s Dispatched to Look for Debris
National Guard airmen and soldiers joined the grim and
painstaking search for debris from the ill-fated space shuttle
Columbia soon after it disintegrated over Texas on
Two F-15 fighters from the Louisiana Air Guard's 159th Fighter
Wing began an aerial search for wreckage over the vast region of
eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana about a half hour after
countless bits and pieces of the Columbia had fallen on
Just as quickly, the Texas National Guard's 6th Civil Support
Team, based in Austin, was dispatched to east Texas to begin
testing pieces of debris for hazardous residue. Twenty-one members
of that team spent much of Sunday testing, photographing and
collecting pieces of debris around four schools in Nacogdoches,
Palestine and Naches, explained Maj. Michael Dietz, the team's
Army Guard soldiers in both states spent the weekend helping
state and local police officers guard pieces
In all, 184 members of the Texas National Guard
were supporting the recovery mission by Sunday afternoon, explained
spokesman Lt. Col. John Stanford. They included 96 Army Guard
soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery, who were
helping to guard debris sites in Nacogdoches and Lufkin. They also
included members of a dozen UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crews who
were primed to fly a variety of missions for NASA, the Federal
Emergency Management Agency and Texas officials, Stanford said.
A Texas Guard counterdrug airplane equipped with infrared
sensors also joined the search for wreckage that included computer
chips, fuel cells five feet in diameter, and "pieces of tile all
over the place," one Guard officer explained.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command
diverted a total of four F-15s from the Air Guard fighter wing near
New Orleans to look for debris Saturday, two in the morning and two
in the afternoon. That mission was suspended Saturday night, and
the wing was not asked to resume those flights on Sunday, explained
Dusty Shenofsky, spokesperson for the Louisiana National Guard.
Meanwhile, 24 Army Guard soldiers from Louisiana's 199th Support
Battalion were helping to safeguard debris sites in that state by
Sunday afternoon, said Shenofsky. Debris had been located in 13
places, scattered over some remote and rugged terrain, within six
Louisiana parishes, she added.
"Nacogdoches is the urban epicenter for the debris, and that's
where a lot of it has been located because people live there,"
noted Dietz from Texas' 6th Civil Support Team.
But much of the area where debris has been reported lies in the
Piney Woods timber region of east Texas, which is rugged and
densely wooded in places.
In addition to the Texas unit, so far National Guard civil
support teams from Oklahoma and Arkansas have also been tapped to
survey debris sites and test the wreckage for toxic substances that
could harm other emergency responders and the public.
[Thanks to Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, USA, senior correspondent in
the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Office, Arlington (VA)