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Space Shuttle Columbia  breaks up on descent after atmosphere reentry

Terrible, terrible news. (check Google News)

Transcribing from TV news: All 7 astronauts aboard space shuttle Columbia (OV-102) [mirrored here] on mission STS-107 were killed when the shuttle apparently broke up on descent after earth atmosphere reentry. Contact was lost at 1500CET, 0800CST over Texas, scheduled landing time was 0916EST at Kennedy Space Center. The space shuttle is presumed to have disintegrated at 200000 feet and at 12500mph, some 100 miles south-east of Dallas. People in Texas are advised to report any findings of debris to local authorities and not to go near them due to the toxic propellant used in the shuttle.

The videos seem to indicate the the descent was mostly nominal until the shuttle suddenly breaks up into two and shortly afterwards into multiple pieces after a large flash as shown on the second picture above.

NASA statement:

Entry Flight Director Leroy Cain declared a contingency for the shuttle Columbia at around 8:14 central time this morning (1414 GMT) as the shuttle and its seven astronauts headed for a landing at the Kennedy Space Center.

Columbia fired its braking rockets at 7:16 this morning (1316 GMT) and entered the Earth’s atmosphere with all of its systems functioning normally for a landing at the Florida spaceport at 8:16 a.m.(1416 GMT).

But communications were lost with Columbia around 8 o‘clock (1400 GMT) as the orbiter streaked over Texas.

NASA began to use all of its tracking facilities to look for Columbia, but communications were not restored by the time the shuttle had been scheduled to land.

Contingency procedures remain in effect and landing support officials are currently being dispatched near the Dallas-Forth Worth area to search for possible debris.

Witnesses in Palestine, TX report loud explosion sounds that shook their buildings. [16:30CET] Police in Nacogdoches reports finding debris.

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STS-107 mission information at NASA: Crew, Timeline, Cargo, Press Kit (11MB PDF)
Better reachable: European Space Agency STS-107 information.

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Commander Rick Husband
Pilot William McCool
Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla
Mission Specialist David Brown
Mission Specialist Michael Anderson
Mission Specialist Laurel Clark
Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon

[16:17 CET] Meanwhile, http://www.spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle is swamped and virtually unreachable