Almost-close encounter: Meteorite hits Lorton doctor's office

A family practice in Lorton is patching up the roof after a meteorite crashes through the ceiling and into an exam room.
By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 21, 2010

Much later, after the hole in the roof had been fixed and the debris cleaned up, after the cause of the damage finally had become clear, Frank Ciampi wondered: What are the odds?

He is a doctor. He has worked for 18 years in the two-story building in Lorton that houses the Williamsburg Square Family Practice, in the 9500 block of Richmond Highway. He spends his days walking in and out of examining rooms, seeing patients.

What are the chances, as he goes about his routine, that he'll get hit by a meteorite?

Not impossible.

It almost happened.

"I was in my office doing charts," Ciampi recalled. It was Monday, a little after 5:30 p.m. He was on the building's second floor. "And I heard a loud boom, almost like a small explosion."

At first, he said, he thought a bookcase had toppled nextdoor. "So I ran toward the office. And then I saw all the debris in the hallway," he said.

The floor just outside examination room No. 2 -- about 10 feet from where Ciampi had been doing paperwork -- was littered with small pieces of wood, plaster and insulation. Upon inspection, more debris lay inside the room. He saw three chunks of stone on the floor that together formed a rock about the size of a tennis ball, with a glassy-smooth surface. Then he saw a hole about the size of the rock in the tile ceiling, and a tear in the maroon carpet where the rock had landed.

"The first thing we thought was maybe something had fallen from a plane," Ciampi said.

For most of the day, the 10 examination rooms used by Ciampi and two other medical professionals in the practice had been occupied by patients. Had the falling object crashed through the ceiling a little earlier, it might have killed someone.

"I thank God," Ciampi said.

Later, he said, "I was up all night, wondering what it was." No one else in the practice could figure it out, either. Then on Tuesday, the office manager, Rhonda Lawrence, offered a suggestion from her husband Jeffrey, who has a background in geology.

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