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Military Coordinates Search for Shuttle Wreckage

January 29, 1986

MIAMI (AP) _ Several “small chunks” of the space shuttle Challenger were recovered in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral but officials said there was no sign of the seven crew members killed in Tuesday’s explosion.

At least 10 aircraft and nine surface vessels from the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and NASA scoured a 1,200-square-mile area centered about 30 miles off Cape Canaveral onTuesday, said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Bob Baeten.

Two ships and one plane were to remain searching throught the night, he said.A full search was to resume Wednesday morning at daybreak, he said.

″There has been some debris recovered but it has not been identified, “Baeten said. “The wreckage was described as being several small chunks, but I don’t know the exact size of where it was found.”

Baeten said there had been no sightings of the bodies of the crew members.

The shuttle exploded into a ball of flames minutes after lifting off from its launch pad Tuesday morning, killing all seven crewmembers.

The search for debris is being coordinated by the Coast Guard’s 7th District operations center in Miami.

″Thirty miles off Cape Canaveral would put you in water depth of 150 to 160 meters or roughly over 500 feet,″ said Dr. Thomas Lee, a University of Miami research professor at the school’s Division of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography.

″That is a problem for divers,″ Lee said. ″It’s below safe working depth for scuba divers, so they would have to use some type of underwater cameras or submersible.″

Lee said the search area centers in a ″fairly rugged″ ocean bottom terrain past the edge of the continental shelf on the continental slope, which drops rapidly from 250 feet to about 2,500 feet.

″That’s a tricky area because not only is the depth changing quite rapidly, but the western edge of the Gulf Stream is flowing right through that region and that produces strong currents.″

The currents would probably not scatter the debris very far because most of it would likely sink, but it could seriously hamper search and particularly recovery operations, Lee said.

Searching Tuesday were three C-130 aircraft, five large H-3 helicopters, a P-3 Orion aircraft and a NASA Huey helicopter, according to Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jim Simpson.

In addition, two 41-foot Coast Guard patrol boats and the 82-foot cutter Point Roberts were searching along with four U.S. Navy ships and two NASA recovery ships normally used to retrieve the shuttle’s rocket boosters, Simpson said.

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