Lufkin, TX -- With dive operations on Lake Nacogdoches finished and dive activities on Toledo Bend Reservoir 98 percent complete, the U.S. Navy directed water operations to recover Columbia Shuttle material could conclude as early as this week.
Headquartered at Toledo Bend Reservoir, near Hemphill, teams from the U.S. Navy, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Forest Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, City of Galveston Police Department, Galveston County Sheriff's Department, Jasper County Sheriff's Emergency Corporation, City of Houston, Sabine River Authority and Louisiana Parks and Wildlife have successfully cleared 2,773 identified targets.
"Never before have we encountered a search environment as challenging as the Toledo Bend Reservoir flooded national forest. We've employed world experts and our highest technology and though we've only had limited success, our search and dive teams have done exceptional work in supporting NASA's accident investigation effort", said U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage, Captain Jim Wilkins, who directed the operation.
When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) mapped the path of the Shuttle Columbia, it became evident that possible Shuttle debris might have fallen into the Reservoir on the Texas-Louisiana border.
Dive operations involved 161 persons, including seven dive teams at Toledo Bend Reservoir and two dive teams at Lake Nacogdoches. Material assets, in addition to their boats, include two autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), two multibeam 3-dimensional imaging sonars, five side scan sonars, and the hardware and software appropriate for interpreting images returned by this instrumentation.
Dive teams have been confronted by a steady stream of obstacles, but none have dampened their enthusiasm nor prevented them from covering 14.69 square nautical miles at Toledo Bend and an additional 3.17 square nautical miles at Lake Nacogdoches. Dive teams have had to work around rough water, poor visibility and thick bottom sediment.
The 866-446-6603 toll-free Columbia Shuttle Material reporting number will remain active and should be used by anyone finding suspected shuttle debris in lakes and reservoirs.