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Glenn Mahone/Doc Mirelson
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202/358-1600)

Eileen Hawley
Johnson Space Center, Houston
(Phone: 281/483-5111)

Kelly Humphries
NASA Command Center, Lufkin, Texas
(Phone: 936/699-1019)

Kim Pease
FEMA, Lufkin, Texas
(Phone: 936/699-1094)

Gay Ippolito
U.S. Forest Service, Lufkin, Texas
(Phone: 936/630-3128)

April 16, 2003
RELEASE : 03-142
East Texas Columbia Recovery Search Nears Completion
As the Central Texas search for material from the Space Shuttle Columbia moves westward, the East Texas search nears completion.

Ground search teams have completed 78 percent of their primary search area, airborne spotters have finished 80 percent of their assigned areas, and underwater search operations finished last week. More than 70,000 items, weighing more than 78,000 pounds, about 37 percent of the Shuttle, by weight, have been delivered to the Kennedy Space Center for use in the mishap investigation.

The painstaking search of the main 2400 square mile search corridor was executed through the combined efforts of NASA, FEMA, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. and Texas Forest Services. Individuals from these organizations, aided by local authorities and landowners, have worked long hours under arduous conditions over difficult terrain, to recover Columbia debris.

A Columbia Recovery Office (CRO) is being established at Johnson Space Center, Houston, to assume responsibility for recovery management and community liaison. The Disaster Field Office in Lufkin, Texas, the central planning and command center for the search, is expected to close in early May.

"The response to the Columbia tragedy has been simply overwhelming. Private citizens, local, state and federal agencies have worked so hard to help us get to this point," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "NASA cannot thank the communities and our government partners enough for what they have done to aid the accident investigation. We have retrieved a large percentage of Columbia, and that will go a long way toward helping solve the puzzle of what happened Feb. 1st. All the participants will forever be a part of the NASA family, and we will try to honor them by returning to flight safely, and as soon as possible," Administrator O'Keefe said.

As area searches are completed, NASA and FEMA will work with supporting agencies to close the four Incident Command Posts that served as operational bases, and the Mobilization and Staging Area that supported personnel in the camps.

The U.S. and Texas Forest Services managed the Incident Command Posts and conducted search operations. They are expected to close the camp in Palestine around April 23, followed by Hemphill around April 25, Nacogdoches around May 2, and Corsicana around May 5. The Longview staging area is expected to close around May 8.

"We are in the final stages of our ground searches and are beginning to close the camps that housed more than 14,000 people since mid-February," said Mark Stanford, Texas Forest Service Incident Commander. "The camp staffs and communities have been outstanding and treated our search crews as honored guests. Although we're pleased to have ground search operations almost finished, our crews will miss the great East Texas hospitality," he said.

"Working with more than 100 federal, state and local agencies, and volunteer groups that came together for one purpose, we will forever be proud of the involvement FEMA had in the Columbia operation," said Federal Coordinating Office Scott Wells. "This operation has been a model of cooperation and has set a high standard for future Department of Homeland Security cooperative endeavors," he said.

NASA plans to maintain a relationship with the people of the East Texas communities affected by the Columbia mishap through community outreach and education programs.

For more information about NASA and the Space Shuttle Columbia investigation on the Internet, visit:


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