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Air National Guard supports shuttle efforts

ARLINGTON, Va. (AFPN) -- Air National Guard airmen joined the grim and painstaking search for debris from Space Shuttle Columbia soon after it disintegrated over Texas.

Two F-15 Eagles from the Louisiana Air Guard's 159th Fighter Wing began an aerial search for wreckage over the vast region of eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana about a half hour after countless bits and pieces of the Columbia began raining down on the countryside.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command diverted the two F-15s from the Air National Guard fighter wing near New Orleans to look for debris, it was explained.

"Our pilots spotted numerous debris locations and will provide further information only to FEMA and NASA officials," a spokesman said.

The first two fighters searched throughout the morning and were replaced by two other F-15s at 1 p.m., said Dusty Shenofsky, spokesperson for the Louisiana National Guard.

That mission was suspended at dark Feb. 1, and the wing was not asked to resume those flights, she explained.

Finding the debris will take a lot of time and manpower, predicted Maj. Michael Dietz, the team's deputy commander, because it is scattered over some remote and rugged terrain.

"Nacogdoches, (Texas,) is the urban epicenter for the debris, and that's where a lot of it has been located because people live there," Dietz said.

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