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2/1/03 - A Strange Day to Be in the Texas News Business

It all started for me this morning shortly after 9 o'clock...

The reports vary but there were evidently between 2 and four loud booms that could clearly be heard around 8 o'clock in the area where I live on the south side of Fort Worth.  I was up and getting ready to head to the sale of champions at the Fort Worth Stock Show. 
I didn't hear the booms.  I went to the show and got my nat sound and interviews and headed for the truck.  I turned on the radio and flipped it over to the AM to listen to my buddy Scott do the news on WBAP...the competitor to the Infinity/CBS operation where I work (  The AM dial was tuned to a low-rated station here called KLIF and I heard a snippet saying, "Columbia is lost".  I quickly tuned to my station because we are all news all day and I knew we'd be on it before anyone in town.  Sure enough, we were.
As I pulled out of the parking lot I called the station to tell them that I'm already in the truck and have my equipment and can head out into the field if need be.  They said no...everyone had been called in and to sit tight...probably get the call later in the day.
Good enough for me.  I headed south for home, ran some errands and listened.  As I stopped I'd see a television here and there that kept showing the radar image picking up the debris.  It started just south of where I live and spread all the way into Louisiana (by noon it there would be confirmed reports of small pieces of debris in Alabama).  Most of the debris was being found in and around the city of Nacogdoches near the Louisiana line although they did find a big chunk of tile in Burleson...about 5 miles south of where I live.
I did get the call from work...not to head out into the field but to come in and anchor the wall to wall coverage.  That lasted awhile and when we realized nothing new was going to come from Washington, Florida or Houston we went back to the normal format and I headed out to the newsroom which was pretty much chaos all day.  I didn't make any calls but fielded quite a few including one from a man who grew up with Rick Husband, the Columbia Commander.  This guy evidently was hurting and needed to vent.  With his permission I rolled the tape and listened to a touching tale of a good man who died doing what he loved.
And on the ride home I took a picture of one of the traffic signs spread around the Metroplex.  It is surreal when you see that message on a sign that usually warns of construction or a kidnapped child (see photo below).
Out of the seven astronauts three had close ties to Texas.  The Johnson Space Center, home of Mission Control (as in "Houston, we have a problem") is in Texas.  Columbia is now spread across north and east Texas.  It is a story of interest to the world, but very much a Texas story.
What a tragedy.  What a day.

TexDOT sign on I-35W in south Fort Worth.
I took this picture near my house on the night of 2/1/03. Not something one expects to see.


Images copyright Associated Press and Dallas Morning News except where noted.


Onlookers near a shoe sole believe to be that of a Columbia astronaut.

Page created 2/1/03 by Keith Merckx -