Sunday, February 2, 2003

Tristaters stunned, seek answers

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tristaters clicked on their televisions Saturday morning and almost immediately reeled back in horror. They stayed glued to their TVs, watching the national tragedy unfold:

The space shuttle Columbia leaving a clear white path against perfect-blue skies before breaking into parts. Texans witnessing flaming debris fall to the ground. Footage of earth left scarred and burned by burning metal. The seven astronauts aboard - lost.

Like others across the nation, Greater Cincinnatians kept asking the same questions. What went wrong? How could this happen? Whose lives were lost? Sometimes, the answers were too much.

Tristaters struggled to make sense of these lost lives - Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon.

Paul Koch, 58, of Anderson Township, stood before rows of televisions Saturday at the HH Gregg store in Clermont County. Footage of the astronauts - six Americans and an Israeli flashed behind him.

Saturday, he said, was a reminder that Americans shouldn't be so blasČ about aviation and stop taking for granted America's prowess in space aviation.

"We've been flying for 30 or 40 years," he said. The shuttle "goes up. It comes down. We're almost blasČ. (But) those are real phenomenal things that people just forget about ... until something like this happens."

Max Ash, a 66-year-old Norwood resident was reminded of the 1986 Challenger explosion.

"To be snatched away in that quick of time makes you want to get on your knees and pray to God that it won't happen again," he said. "And then, this morning, I was watching the news and thought, 'No. It can't be.' When they said they lowered the flag in Florida, I wanted to go out and lower mine."

Tim Elam, 40, of Amelia,was also left reeling. An aircraft mechanic by trade, he stayed glued to his set for two hours. He paid attention to details - the angle of the shuttle's flight, the age of the craft, the speed of its travel.

"I was trying to let things soak in," he said. "A lot more things can go wrong on takeoff than on landing. Who knows? I don't think they're every going to find out. I feel for the people on board and their families."

Steve Tankersley, 44, of Mason, stepped into his car Saturday and clicked on the radio. News of the shuttle explosion took his breath away.

He still made it to his flight instruction class at Lunken Airport. But the minute it was over, he walked over to the Sky Galley restaurant. He took up a post under the TVs at the bar.

Americans can laud their space program but "whenever you have a huge catastrophe like this ... it just sort of brings it back to reality. It's devastating.

"With the Challenger, it just dropped down. This (was over) the whole state of Texas. I have so many questions."

While Tristaters want their answers, they want their nation to stay firm in its commitment to space aviation.

"We're never going to stop the exploration of space. We shouldn't," Ash said. "It goes to that old question that kids always ask: 'Why is the sky blue?' We're going to keep going until we figure it out. It's the unanswered question of the ages."


Enquirer reporter Kristina Goetz contributed.

(Complete Columbia coverage at

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