Man recalls picking up pieces of space shuttle Columbia 15 years ago

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Space shuttle Columbia. Cropped Photo: NASA/ MGN

Its been 15 years since Mike Lorhey helped pick up the pieces of space shuttle Columbia after it shattered in the skies over Corsicana, Texas — but he remembers it like it was yesterday.

Seven astronauts were killed in the explosion on Feb. 1, 2003, just minutes before a Florida touchdown. The shuttle reportedly disintegrated as it reentered the earth’s atmosphere.

“It was a tragedy, one of disbelief that something like that can happen, but we’d seen it before,” Lorhey said.

More: NASA honors 7 killed on space shuttle Columbia 15 years ago

Lorhey, who worked with the U.S Forest Service for 36 years, helped lead the crews responsible for finding key pieces of the shuttle that explained exactly what happened.

“Basically trying to find the remnants of the crew members,” Lorhey said.

Groups of 20 scoured 680,000 acres in sometimes extreme conditions.

“They had divers in a reservoirs searching,” Lorhey said. “They’d take three steps and pause. They made sure to scan all around because some of the pieces they were finding obscure they’re hard to see in the grass.”

Crews found about 75 percent of the shuttle within three months, including the piece where it all went wrong.

“We found some key pieces from that leading wing where the failure occurred,” Lorhey said.

The cause of the Columbia disaster was a piece of insulating foam that broke off and hit the shuttle, making a hole in the left wing, according to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

FILE – In this Jan. 20, 2003, file photo, astronauts aboard Columbia’s Spacehab David Brown, left, Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, second from left back row, commander Rick Husband, front row second from left, astronaut Kalpana Chawla, back row third from left, pilot William McCool, back row fourth from left, astronaut Michael Anderson, front row right, and astronaut Laurel Clark, wave to a television camera as a floating apple is seen in this view. NASA honored the seven astronauts killed aboard shuttle Columbia 15 years ago, with a special musical tribute Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, by the son of Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut. (AP Photo/NASA TV, File)

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