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Veteran Journalist Frank Mottek's Eyewitness Account Of Challenger Disaster

LOS ANGELES ( — Frank Mottek, a reporter for KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO in Los Angeles, was at Kennedy Space Center for the Challenger's launch 30 years ago.

Mottek was anchoring a live broadcast for CBS Radio News with veteran CBS News Correspondent Christopher Glenn and witnessed the tragic explosion that claimed the lives of the seven aboard.

(photo credit: BOB PEARSON/AFP/Getty Images)

A year after the tragic liftoff, Mottek wrote an article for the Sun-Sentinel detailing the events of that day, the excerpts of which appear below:

"Sometimes history sneaks past even the most astute observers, only to be revealed later and under close analysis. And sometimes it flares in your face, instantly important, and reshapes the world.

"Most journalists, those whose job it is to tell history`s tales on a day-to-day basis, never or rarely witness and chronicle earth-shaking events. When they do, these observers are the first links in a chain that brings monumental news to the world. And for those who do their job aloud -- live, on the air, describing even as they are watching -- the task uniquely weds the witness to the event.

"Thus I remember the day Challenger exploded -- a year ago Wednesday -- just as Herb Morrison to this day clearly recalls the day the dirigible Hindenburg exploded on May 6, 1937, killing 35 people at Lakehurst, New Jersey."

Mottek went on to explain that on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986 he had left his hotel room at 3:30 a.m. and made his way to the NASA press room.

"We watched the crew members gather together for breakfast, take their trip to the launch pad, put on their space suits and board their space ship," wrote Mottek. "We saw Christa McAullife smile as a technician gave her an apple."

Mottek wrote of how Challenger's launch was initially delayed because of a computer issue.

"As launch time approached, Glenn and I went into our studio," explained Mottek. "At 11:37, Glenn began the three-minute launch broadcast."

Mottek recounted hearing NASA spokesman Hugh Harris count down and the shuttle's liftoff.

Initially, all appeared to have gone as planned.

Mottek even recalls shaking Glenn's hand after the broadcast had ended signalling what they believed had been a successful launch.

"Just then we both stood up and looked up at the shuttle making its way farther and farther into the sky. Suddenly, I was struck by a pattern I had never seen before. From our vantage point, it appeared that an extra flame was trailing from the shuttle. Then, in that split second, a silent fireball appeared in the sky. Then there was silence, the silence of alarm, on the Mission Control line. Glenn immediately signaled our technician Bob to get back on the air for an emergency Net Alert Report," Mottek wrote.

Click below to listen-in on the broadcast from Jan. 28, 1986:

(photo credit: BOB PEARSON/AFP/Getty Images)

To read Mottek's account in its entirety, click here.

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