- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

LUFKIN, Texas, March 3 (UPI) — NASA officials Monday sought additional eyewitness accounts and photos of space shuttle Columbia as it broke up over Texas, killing seven astronauts.

Jerry Ross, a spokesman for the NASA astronaut office, said investigators want any photos or video taken of the orbiter, which broke apart more than 200,000 feet above Texas on Feb. 1.

"We are very thankful for the tremendous assistance that has come from citizens and organizations in reporting shuttle material finds," he said.

"We're asking everyone's continued support in this extremely import recovery effort. NASA is seeking additional information, photographs and video from individuals near the glide path of Columbia as moved across Texas."

Ross said NASA also wants to hear from any eyewitnesses who saw debris along a line from near the San Francisco Bay area in California to Fort Polk in western Louisiana. News media or private citizens are asked to call the toll-free shuttle hotline number at (866) 446-6603.

About 5,250 federal and state personnel continue to search for debris in the recovery effort that is now in its second month. Although thousands of pieces of debris have been found, only about 14 percent by weight of the shuttle has been delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to NASA.

Scott Wells, the coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said "good progress" is being made despite a late-winter storm that hit the area last week.

A fleet of 33 helicopters and nine fixed-wing aircraft are making a grid search of a corridor 10 miles wide and 240 miles long from south of Dallas to the Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Texas-Louisiana state line, where most the debris has been found.

About 155 crews of federal firefighters from 39 states have taken over the ground search from local authorities. They are checking NASA-assigned areas in the debris corridor and searching for debris reported by the aircraft.

The nose of the shuttle and several other significant finds have been made near Toledo Bend Reservoir, where the U.S. Navy is coordinating eight dive teams and two side-sonar boats. A total of 943 targets have been cleared but 519 remain. The underwater search has been hampered by dead trees and other structures that litter the bottom.

NASA says no Columbia debris has been confirmed outside of Texas and western Louisiana so far. The westernmost find was a piece of tile found Valentine's Day near Littlefield, Texas.




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