Explosion Killed Two People And Critically Injured Four Others At Mojave Desert Airport Site
Calif. (AP) -- An explosion killed two people and critically injured
four others at a Mojave Desert airport site used by the pioneering
aerospace company that sent the first private manned rocket into space,
The blast at a Mojave Air and Space Port facility belonging to
Scaled Composites LLC also left some toxic material, said Kern County
fire Capt. Doug Johnston.
Scaled is the Mojave-based builder of SpaceShipOne, the first
private manned rocket to reach space, and is developing a successor for
the new space tourism business Virgin Galactic.
Aerospace designer Burt Rutan, who heads Scaled, told The Associated Press he had no information and was heading to the scene.
Video news helicopters showed wrecked equipment and vehicles at the
airport in the high desert north of Los Angeles near Edwards Air Force
Base. The blast site was in a remote unpaved section of the airport.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blast, said Tony Diffenbaugh, an inspector with the fire department.
Kern County fire crews and bomb experts were headed to the scene,
where there was concern that airport personnel could be exposed to
hazardous materials, said sheriff's Deputy Vince Martinez.
Paramedics reported two people were killed, four were critically
injured and one suffered minor injuries, said Mark Corum, a spokesman
for Hall Ambulance Service. The injured were airlifted to Kern Medical
Center about 45 miles from the airport, he said.
A call seeking comment from the airport manager was not immediately returned.
The Mojave airport is where the Rutan-designed Voyager aircraft was
built. It made history in 1986 when it achieved the first nonstop
flight around the world without refueling.
In 2004, Rutan's SpaceShipOne, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul
Allen, made the first privately financed manned spaceflight by climbing
more than 62 miles (100 kilometer) high on a suborbital journey above
Mojave. SpaceShipOne went on to make two more flights to win the $10
million Ansari X Prize.
Rutan has since been developing SpaceShipTwo for entrepreneur
Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which plans to offer $200,000 rides
into space for tourists.
Aerospace and defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. owns 40
percent of Scaled and recently agreed to acquire the rest of it. The
deal is awaiting regulatory approval and should close next month.
Northrop Grumman spokesman Dan McClain said the company had no comment on the explosion.
The airport is an important part of Mojave, an unincorporated
community of about 4,000 people, said Bill Deaver, publisher of weekly
Mojave Desert News. It employs about 1,500 people, he said, and is the
country's first inland spaceport certified by the Federal Aviation
The airport is often crowded with parked airliners that are not in
service. Its flight operations often involve unusual aircraft
undergoing testing, and civilian test pilots undergo training there.
The airport has been a popular location for movie and television
production. Part of "Speed'' was filmed at the airport -- a Boeing 707
was blown up in a scene that was supposed to be Los Angeles