Reports of fireball likely space shuttle

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 27, 1999

With the fear of Y2K doom already coursing in the veins, seeing a fiery object streak across the sky followed by an explosion was enough to worry dozens of county residents Monday evening.

&uot;It scared the hell out of me,&uot; said Adams County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell, who was hunting in the Kingston community in south Adams County. &uot;I stopped dead in my tracks.&uot;

The &uot;it&uot; Ferrell and others saw was apparently the space shuttle Discovery as it reentered Earth orbit and glided in for a landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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&uot;I was sitting here watching TV, and I heard a big bang,&uot; said Donald Zartman, who lives on Lake Montrose Road. &uot;I didn’t see anything. I thought it was a big explosion.&uot;

Zartman, who is also the fire chief for Lake Montrose Volunteer Fire Department, said he spoke with several residents who witnessed the shuttle.

&uot;One man said he saw the fire ball come right down York Road and thought he heard it crash across U.S. 61,&uot; Zartman said.

The shuttle touched down at 6:01 p.m. CST, about 10 minutes after residents reported seeing the speeding fireball and hearing the explosion of the sonic boom it created. As it reenters the atmosphere, the shuttle slows from its orbit speed of approximately 17,000 mph to its touchdown speed of approximately 235 mph.

Reports of the fireball in the sky even had Natchez Fire Department personnel looking for a possible downed airplane.

&uot;At first, I thought it was a plane on fire, out of control,&uot; Ferrell said. &uot;But I couldn’t believe the speed of it. The thought crossed my mind that Y2K had started early and that it was some kind of SCUD missile.&uot;

Dozens of residents across the county reported seeing the unusual sight and reported everything from a meteorite landing to an airplane crashing.

&uot;All (the sheriff’s department) phone lines lit up,&uot; Ferrell said. &uot;Probably 30 or 40 at one time.&uot;

Discovery and its seven-member crew returned after an eight-day mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

The shuttle passed on its first attempt to land at 4:18 p.m. CST because of crosswinds at Kennedy. Its second landing pass took it directly over Adams County.

&uot;It’s just iron that we were on the perfect glide path,&uot; Ferrell said. &uot;It was a beautiful sight if you knew what it was. It was really unnerving if you didn’t.&uot;