LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – Eight years ago, an explosion in the sky drove hundreds of East Texans to take immediate action.
At the hub of the Columbia shuttle recovery was the Angelina County airport.
"It was an emotional time but everyone just rolled up their sleeves and went to work and did what they had to do," said Angelina County airport manager Randy Carswell.
Carswell didn't waste any time springing into action.
"Immediately we had Texas DPS show up and then the military started showing up and then government aircraft started showing up and we got extremely busy. We did at least two years worth of business in those four months," said Carswell.
"It was so busy, they set up an FAA control tower here in Lufkin, Texas," said Terry Cartwright, president of the East Texas Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1210.
Constant airport traffic made for a relentless search and rescue effort for shuttle debris.
"What had been almost a flawless effort to recover the space shuttle turned into something really tragic," said Carswell.
One helicopter searching for shuttle pieces ran out of fuel before they could land.
"The whole crew, all the guys were sitting on the railing of the helicopter and they were all smiling and laughing and having a good time and then just a couple of hours later, we heard that they had crashed and it was really a solemn, somber occasion," said Carswell.
A memorial bench honors those who lost their lives and those who survived the crash. Next to it is a second bench for the astronauts who never made it to space.
"They gave so that we could learn and so we could grow and they gave for us as well. So take the time, come out, see what it is and think perhaps what we could do to honor them," said Scott Cooper, county commissioner, precinct four.
For East Texans, it's as simple as paying a visit to the airport and taking a seat.
The benches were donated a couple of weeks ago by the East Texas Experimental Aircraft Association, Chapter 1219. Close to $5,000 was raised to pay for the memorial, which was dedicated Wednesday.