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Columbia's nose gear found



REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION OF THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE TO ARTHUR N1ORC

Feb. 19, 2003, 1:49PM

Columbia's nose gear found

HEMPHILL - Diving crews have found the nose landing gear of the space
shuttle Columbia largely intact in the woods near Toledo Bend Reservoir,
officials said today. 

Navy Capt. Chris Murray told The Associated Press that the crews were led
to the gear Tuesday by residents who waved dive boats ashore as they were
searching for shuttle material in the East Texas lake near Hemphill. 

NASA spokesman Dave Drachlis confirmed that NASA did identify the object
as Columbia's "nose gear." Investigators said it was unclear how helpful
the find would be. 

A resident riding a four-wheeler led search crews to the landing gear,
which was about 8 feet long and resembled a hydraulic cylinder, said Navy
chief warrant officer Roger Riendeau, who was on scene when it was
discovered. He said the wheels were still on both hubs, which were
intact. The gear, found "laying in the dirt," has been recovered by
officials, Riendeau said. 

Divers and officials with the Navy, Environmental Protection Agency, and
the Galveston and Houston police departments continued searching
Wednesday the lake for shuttle materials. 

Diving is expected to continue through the next 45 days, NASA spokeswoman
Kathy Barnstorff said Wednesday. 

Water operations have been frustrated by bad weather and the natural
murkiness of the lake, which allows for only 20 inches visibility.
Hovering mainly near the lake's shores, divers have found only one
shuttle part, a cylindrical hunk of metal whose function NASA officials
have not yet identified. 

Meanwhile, wildland fire crews from across the country trained today as
they prepared to continue the ground search based in Sabine County. Other
ground searches are based in Nacogdoches, where searchers have been
looking for several days, and Palestine, which is still setting up camp. 

U.S. Forest Service officials say they're racing against nature, trying
to find and recover as much material as they can before spring foliage
arrives in mid- to late March. 

Sabine County Sheriff Tommy Maddox said in an interview today morning
with East Texas radio station KTHP that Hemphill residents should expect
"a lot more aerial searches" in the area. 

"Don't be alarmed if you should see these helicopters flying over low and
hovering," Maddox told listeners. 

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