Vernon Parish officials remember Columbia space shuttle explosio - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Vernon officials remember Columbia shuttle explosion 10 years later

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Columbia flight plans found in a Vernon yard, from a 2003 newspaper article. Columbia flight plans found in a Vernon yard, from a 2003 newspaper article.
Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft
Ken Noble, retired Director of Homeland Security in Vernon Parish Ken Noble, retired Director of Homeland Security in Vernon Parish

It was a tragic day as seven astronauts lost their lives when the space shuttle Columbia exploded. But to some residents in Vernon Parish, Feb. 1, 2003 doesn't seem that long ago.

"We heard three or four sonic booms. We thought it was Fort Polk shooting out on the range," Kenneth Noble said.

Ten years ago, Noble was the Director of Homeland Security in Vernon Parish, also serving as a Sheriff's deputy.

After learning of the space shuttle's explosion, the phones began to ring as residents were reporting debris found in their yards.

Noble said one piece of metal was found on his neighbor's property. It was falling at such a great speed, with great force it sunk about three feet in the ground. Noble said the piece of metal from the space shuttle was very heavy.

"And NASA was telling us, 'Don't touch it all,' because it contains a lot of different poisons and all that can be deadly," he said.

Something Noble said was a scary moment, but other things were found as well. A Star of David patch from the suit of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, pieces of paperwork from the shuttle, and a piece of metal that took down power lines.

Among other parts and pieces of the Columbia.

Most of the debris from the Columbia was found across Vernon Parish and into Texas, but Toledo Bend is where some of the larger items from the shuttle were found.

Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft said numerous pieces landed in the local lakes and his department was in charge of documenting the pieces that were found across the parish.

"For several days, officers with the department went to various locations and collected items that were from the shuttle," Craft said.

It was a busy time for the department as government agencies like NASA and the FBI moved into Vernon Parish.

"I just directed the daily operation of going and recovering various pieces and once we got them back here to the office, we turned them over to the FBI authorities," Craft said.

But even 10 years later, to Craft it only seems like yesterday.

"It really ... time really does go fast. So, it doesn't really seem like it's been 10 years," he said.

And to Noble, he still thinks about the tragic event and those who died.

"Just thinking about the people on the shuttle that lost their lives ... It was hard to think something like that could've happened to them," Noble said.

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