Troopers recount VSP response to rocket explosion

ACCOMACK COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia State Police stationed on the Eastern Shore worked traffic control and safety at the Wallops Island launch Tuesday evening. The five troopers were there as the rocket took off and exploded in mid-air, six seconds later.

“It’s an odd feeling,” said Sgt. Jon Tudor.

Tudor said the Va. State Police Accomack County Area Office has worked 15 to 20 launches over the years. Depending on how big the launch is, there is always extra traffic and vehicles parked along the road leading up to the Wallops Flight Facility.

All five troopers, plus the thousands of spectators in the area, could see and feel when the Antares rocket exploded.

“You could hear the rocket go up and you heard the explosion,” Tudor said. “You saw the smoke plume and then a couple seconds later, that’s when the percussion hit you.”

Tudor and the four other state troopers were a few miles away when they felt the explosion. They started evacuating people from the NASA Wallops Visitor Center and kept traffic under control to make way for emergency vehicles from all over the Eastern Shore.

“They had fire companies from every part of the region that came,” Tudor said. “The troopers did an exceptional job of getting the site cleared. We didn’t have a lot of confusion at all. Everything went very smoothly.”

Va. State Police also worked at Wallops Island on Monday before the launch was postponed, which means the troopers were getting overtime to help out again Tuesday. After budget cuts in 2014, and more expected in 2015, Tudor said, overtime and more could be in jeopardy. Cuts could also limit the troopers’ ability to be on hand for events like the launch, that could turn into an emergency situation.

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