Remains of Crew Of Shuttle Found

By Michael Isikoff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 10, 1986

Navy divers have located wreckage of the crew compartment of the space shuttle Challenger lying on the ocean bottom in 100 feet of water and confirmed that it contains remains of the astronauts killed nearly six weeks ago, NASA said today.

Divers, aided by sonar, made a "possible" identification of the crew cabin late Friday afternoon. On Saturday, another group of divers from the USS Preserver, who the space agency said were "thoroughly briefed on debris identification," began to search the area.

"Subsequent dives provided positive identification of the Challenger crew compartment debris and the existence of crew remains," the National Aeronautics and Space Administration statement said.

The families of the seven crew members were notified of the discovery over the weekend. In deference to the families, the agency said it will release no further details until the recovery is completed and the remains are identified.

However, a spokesman for the Navy, Lt. Cmdr. Deborah Burnette, said that neither the crew compartment nor the bodies were intact. "We're talking debris, and not a crew compartment, and we're talking remains, not bodies," she said.

Because of stiff winds and ocean currents, it "may take several days" to complete the recovery off the Florida coast, NASA officials said. Because of six-foot waves, no recovery operations were possible today.

Burnette said that the Preserver returned to port Saturday night, but said she could not comment on whether it carried any crew cabin debris or remains.

The compartment was believed to have been located about 15 miles east of the cape, although NASA would not give an exact location and said that "local security measures are being taken to assure that recovery operations can take place in a safe and orderly manner."

Pathologists from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology have flown to Patrick Air Force Base near the cape, where they will assist in identifying the remains, officials said.

NASA's Hugh Harris said the divers were not able to determine how many of the bodies are in the wreckage.

Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven aboard. The crew members were commander Francis Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis and teacher Christa McAuliffe, the first "ordinary" person in space.

NASA said it began to notify the families on Friday, but McNair's father told United Press International, "I just heard today on news reports" that the divers had identified remains of the crew. McNair was in New York at ceremonies to establish a fund for the Ron McNair Science Playground in Harlem and appeared visibly shaken by the news.

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