A film crew searching for lost World War II aircraft in the Bermuda Triangle has discovered a 20-foot segment of the space shuttle Challenger off the coast of Florida.
Challenger was destroyed in an explosion 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986 as millions watched on television.
All seven on board were killed.
“Of course the emotions come back, don’t they?” NASA Director Michael Ciannilli, who confirmed the discovery, told The Associated Press. “My heart skipped a beat, I must say, and it took me back to 1986…and what we’ve all been through as a nation.”
The History Channel, which will air “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters” on Nov. 22, has posted footage of the discovery online. The network noted that this was the first Challenger wreck discovered in over 25 years:
AP said the Challenger segment – owned by the US government – will remain in the water until NASA determines what to do next.
The Challenger disaster caused a nearly three-year hiatus in shuttle flights. An investigation found that cold temperatures overnight caused O-rings in the solid rocket booster segment seals to fail.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the Challenger disaster “will forever be etched in our nation’s collective memory.”
“For millions of people around the world, myself included, January 28, 1986 still feels like yesterday,” Nelson said in a press release. “This discovery gives us the opportunity to stop once more, to look back on the legacy of the seven pioneers we lost, and to reflect on how this tragedy has changed us.”
While the expedition was filmed for a series on the Bermuda Triangle, the piece of the shuttle was discovered in waters outside the area traditionally considered part of the region. NASA said it was found off the Florida Space Coast, northwest of the Bermuda Triangle.
The Bermuda Triangle is an area where, according to folklore, planes and ships often disappear without a trace. However, the National Ocean Service said there was no evidence that planes and ships are more likely to go missing in the Bermuda Triangle than in any other ocean region of similar size.
The History Channel said the expedition was looking for the remains of a PBM Martin Mariner rescue plane that went missing on December 5, 1945.
“Instead of WWII aircraft debris, the team discovered a modern-looking aviation structure,” the network said in a press release. Retired astronaut Bruce Melnick reviewed the images and, suspecting it was a shuttle segment, contacted NASA.
The Challenge disaster claimed the lives of Shuttle Commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Payload Specialist Gregory B. Jarvis, Mission Specialists Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S Onizuka and Judith A. Resnik, and Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a teacher selected from more than 11,000 applicants for NASA’s Teacher in Space project.