Two Dead In Texas
The skies were eerily quiet in East Texas late
Friday, after all helicopters involved in the search for Columbia
debris were grounded. A US Forest Service chopper looking for
pieces of the lost shuttle apparently lost power to the rotors and
crashed in the Angelina National Forest, killing two men aboard the
aircraft and injuring three others.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent an investigator to
the remote site accessible only over muddy, rut-filled stretches of
trail about 35 miles east of Lufkin. All-terrain vehicles were
brought in to assist crews trying to clear a road into the
"Reports were that it lost power to the rotors," said FAA
spokesman John Clabes.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said Friday two witnesses told
officials the helicopter's "engine just stopped" and it "took a
nose dive" about 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
Charles Krenek, 48, an aviation specialist with
the Texas Forest Service, was seated next Papillon Grand Canyon
Helicopters' pilot, Jules F. "Buzz" Mier, Jr., whose Arizona
employer had been hired by the Forest Service to help in the
search. Both men were killed.
Three others seated behind them in the Bell 407 helicopter
survived but remained hospitalized Friday at Memorial Medical
Center of East Texas in Lufkin, about 125 miles northeast of
Two workers based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Ronnie
Dale and Richard Lange, were in fair condition. Dale had a
punctured lung and Lange shoulder and hip injuries, O'Keefe
Matt Tschacher of the U.S. Forest Service in South Dakota was in
stable condition, said a spokeswoman at the hospital. O'Keefe said
Tschacher suffered a spinal injury.
Pilot Died "Doing What He Loved"
Papillon chief pilot Chuck Rush said Mier, 56, who
spent a decade teaching flight instrumentation after serving as an
Army pilot in Vietnam, was "doing what he loved to do."
"He was an extremely precise individual," Rush said. "He used to
be an accountant. When you asked him a question, he would say, 'Let
me get back to you on that,' and then he would get back to you with
this huge mound of graphs and charts."
The challenge of finding shuttle debris by spending hours at a
time in the air searching a 2-mile grid along lines marked 30 feet
apart attracted Mier to the effort, Rush said. "He loved variety.
He didn't like being stuck doing the same thing time and time
again. It was kind of a unique mission," Rush said. "It was very
precise, demanding flying."
To try to find debris, helicopter pilots fly just above the tree
tops, Rush said. "It's pretty dangerous ... if you have a problem,"
he said. "It doesn't give you much time to react. That was probably
something that led to their demise."
Krenek, of Lufkin, had been assisting in the search since
Columbia broke apart over Texas Feb. 1, killing all seven
astronauts aboard. Charlotte Krenek said her husband of 28 years
also loved what he'd been doing the past seven weeks.
"He found several pieces," she said. "He found a piece of a
helmet and that excited him. He was very diligent and passionate
about his work."
Krenek had worked with the Texas Forest Service for 25 years,
joining the agency in Houston after witnessing a fire in his
grandmother's neighborhood. "He just felt like God wanted him to
help with fires," she said. "He gave it his all. He was just a fine
Christian man. He loved his family."
Ground searches for Columbia debris resumed Friday
after crews observed a moment of silence. More than 140, 20-person
search teams are involved. So far, more than 42,000 pieces of
shuttle debris have been recovered by 10,000 searchers in 16 Texas
Earlier this week, 28 helicopters and eight fixed wing aircraft
were involved in the air search, said Gay Ippolito of the U.S.
Forest Service. "This is a devastating loss for all of us and it is
on the minds of everyone working in the recovery effort," she
Regis#: 175PA Make/Model:
Date: 03/27/2003 Time: 226
Event Type: Accident Highest Injury:
Fatal Mid Air: N Missing:
City: LUFKIN State: TX Country:
ACFT CRASHED UNDER UNKNOWN CIRCUMSTANCES, WHILE PERFORMING LOW
LEVEL FLIGHTS FOR COLUMBIA SHUTTLE RECOVERY. THE TWO POB
INJURIES. LUFKIN, TX
INJURY DATA Total
# Crew: 2 Fat:
# Pass: 3
Fat: 0 Ser:
Fat: 0 Ser:
WEATHER: METAR KLFK 272253Z AUTO 19012G19KT 10SM CLR 24/12
Activity: Other Phase:
Cruise Operation: Public
Dep Date: Dep. Time:
Destination: SILVER CITY,
Last Radio Cont: NONE
FAA FSDO: HOUSTON, TX
Entry date: 03/28/2003