North shore couple saw Columbia’s demise
February 5, 2003
Julia Burt and her husband did know it wasn’t a bird or a plane soaring on the horizon above Lake Tahoe on Saturday morning. However, they did not know it was space shuttle Columbia.
“We thought it was a commercial airline or a missile, it was so big,” said Burt, who saw the event from her home in Agate Bay. “It was rather unnerving, considering everything going on in the world today.”
Burt is an attorney in Truckee with Porter-Simon law firm.
Burt’s husband, Randall, was awake and outside last Saturday around 5:50 a.m. when he saw fire and a vapor stream traveling in an eastern direction across the sky. He went inside to wake up his wife, and she came out immediately.
“It was really clear outside and you could see where the vapor stream had started,” she said. “It went from light red to bright red.”
After the unknown object had passed, the Burts went inside to see if there was any information on the news. There was nothing.
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Ten minutes later, while lying in bed, they heard the now infamous “sonic boom” widely reported in the media. Soon after, the news reported that what the Burts had seen was the space shuttle Columbia burning up 39 miles above Earth.
The space shuttle fell to pieces Saturday, with debris scattering over hundreds of miles of Texas countryside. NASA officials speculated they doubt all fragments of Columbia will be recovered.
Burt said that NASA officials requested for people who had seen the incident to e-mail NASA and report what they’d seen. The couple sent the agency their account.
“The one thing that we kept thinking was how sad it was to watch seven people die,” Burt said.