Search for space shuttle debris to begin in Nevada

LAS VEGAS -- Lincoln County Sherrif Dahl Bradfield said Thursday that NASA officials have requested his department begin searching the rural county for debris from the space shuttle Columbia.

Bradfield said a county search and rescue team will start Friday morning combing an area about five miles northeast of Panaca, near the Nevada-Utah state lines. Panaca is about 170 miles northeast of Las Vegas

"It's hilly but not real bad," Bradfield said.

Federal officials asked the sheriff's department to search a 15-square-mile grid that could contain pieces of the shuttle. Bradfield said the pieces could be 6-inches by 6-inches in size, or much larger.

"We haven't got much data on that yet," he said. "They just said they had tracked it by radar and gave us a projected point of impact."

The sheriff also said federal authorities could aid his department in the search.

"We are coordinating that right now," he said.

NASA officials in Houston said Thursday that the Civil Air Patrol had begun the search.

Local Civil Air Patrol officials could not immediately be reached for comment, and it was unclear if other agencies had been called on to assist.

"We have not had any people ordered up through the national incident command system," said Bureau of Land Management spokesman Jo Simpson in Reno.

Simpson said the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, which coordinates efforts by such Interior Department agencies as the BLM, U.S. Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, would give the order if search assistance were requested in Nevada.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has enlisted the aid of 4,000 firefighters from those agencies and other jurisdictions to help search for shuttle debris in Texas.

The space shuttle Columbia crashed Feb. 1, minutes before it was scheduled to land in Florida. The fiery crash killed all seven astronauts on board, including pilot Willie McCool, whose parents live in Las Vegas and teach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Bradfield said that there had been one other report of shuttle debris in the county but it was ruled out.

Lincoln County is about 10,460-square-miles and has a population of about 4,500 people.


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