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Pictures Don’t Show McAuliffe’s Parents Reacting to Blast, AP Says

Associated Press

Two pictures distributed by the Associated Press in January and said to show the family of teacher Sharon Christa McAuliffe reacting to the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger were erroneously captioned, the news agency said Friday.

The captions said the photos showed the family reacting to the explosion. In fact, the pictures were taken after liftoff but before the craft exploded, 73 seconds after launching on Jan. 28, killing McAuliffe and six other crew members.

The Times was among many newspapers that carried the photos with the erroneous captions.

After it was reported that the photos had been taken before the explosion, “we reviewed the entire 35-millimeter roll of film . . . and compared each frame to an unedited videotape of the family during the launch,” Harold G. Buell, assistant general manager for news photos, said. “There is no doubt these two pictures were made during the liftoff and not at the time of the explosion.”

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Buell said that, when the shuttle lifted off its pad, the AP photographer turned his back to the vehicle, started taking pictures of the family and continued to do so when the explosion occurred.

“Editors selected photos showing what appeared to be family members in tears,” Buell said.

One of the erroneously captioned pictures showed Grace Corrigan, McAuliffe’s mother, looking skyward and appearing to weep on the shoulder of her husband, Edward Corrigan. The other picture showed Mrs. Corrigan holding her right hand to her face with an apparent look of anguish.


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