Stunned students watch shuttle explode with teacher aboard


CONCORD, N.H., Jan. 28, 1986 (UPI) -- Students at Christa McAuliffe's high school wildly cheered her blastoff today than sat in stunned silence as the space shuttle Challenger apparently exploded during its climb into orbit.

Principal Charles Foley immediately ordered news reporters and photographers out of the school. Students were ordered back to their classrooms.


''I don't know what happened,'' sophomore Derec Scranton said as he watched the television launch of the Concord High School teacher.

Students loudly cheered the liftoff of the shuttle in classrooms and an auditorium, but a dead silence followed when the shuttle apparently experienced an explosion during its climb into orbit and veered out of control.

''We don't know anymore than you do right now,'' Foley said. ''We'll be making an announcement as soon as we know anything.''

Students watched the aborted flight of the shuttle in stunned silence. The morning had begun in a festive mood as students brought noisemakers and party hats to cheer on their social studies teacher.

''Awesome,'' said students as the shuttled lifted off. An ear-splitting cheer filled the halls. Students then sat emotionless and watched developments on television.

''We're all shaking. It's just so upsetting,'' said Lennie Barnes, a junior.


''I didn't believe it happened,'' Mark Letalien, a junior. ''They made such a big thing about it. Everyone's watching her and she gets killed.''

Teachers ushered students back to classes before the fate of McAuliffe was known.

At the start of school, students gathered before television sets in the auditorium, cafeteria and in classrooms.

In the parking lot of the large red-brick school where McAuliffe had taught, students stood in the sub-freezing cold listening to grim reports from a radio in a pickup and shook their heads in disbelief.

''I think it's pretty freaky,'' said Jim Charos, a sophomore.

''And the thing exploded and she gets killed and that is the worst,'' said Mark Letalien, a junior.

Teachers asked students to return to their classrooms and ordered news reporters off the campus, where last fall a dropout had been shot dead by police officers in a hostage standoff.

''It's been a rough year. Give us time,'' said one teacher who asked not to be identified.

On the streets of Concord, people gathered in front of television sets in Main Street storefronts and looked at the launch in silent horror. At the Statehouse, word of the launch quickly filtered through the halls.


Students wore party hats and blared noisemakers in preparation of her launch.

The school's 1,200 students remained enthusiastic despite Challenger's delays. They played ''Charge!'' on kazoos, wore party hats and unfurled a banner that read, ''Concord is proud of Christa McAuliffe.''

In the cafeteria, students and faculty jostled for space with television cameras. A banner read, ''We're With U Christa.''

Students plan to release dozens of balloons and raise a banner honoring McAuliffe on Friday, when McAuliffe was scheduled to give her first lesson from space.

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