Coffin Photos Lead to Confusion, Corrections

Times Staff Writer

A set of widely publicized photographs, obtained by a website under the Freedom of Information Act and said to represent flag-draped coffins of American war dead, also included images of the victims of the space shuttle Columbia explosion, NASA said Friday.

The disclosure prompted several news organizations that had used the images to correct their earlier coverage. The photos were among about 350 released by the Air Force in response to the FOIA request by author Russ Kick of Tucson.

On Friday, NASA sent a note to editors, saying, “An initial review of the images featured on the Internet site shows that more than 18 rows of images from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware are actually photographs of honors rendered to Columbia’s seven astronauts.”

“People saw them and recognized them. It was pretty obvious,” NASA spokesman Robert Murrelson said.


Associated Press quoted Col. Jon Anderson, a spokesman for the Dover base, as saying the photos also included casualties from Afghanistan.

Kick could not be reached for comment.

Gary Cameron, a picture editor at Reuters, said, “There’s a lot of confusion over the pictures.” The wire service sent a corrected caption of military personnel offloading flag-draped coffins from a plane. It said the caskets were “believed to be” those of crew members from the space shuttle and not those of “U.S. military personnel.”

AP ran a similar correction. CNN said it had removed NASA photos from its reporting of the story.


The Washington Post said it planned to run a correction in today’s editions.

The Los Angeles Times printed two of the photos in its Friday editions, identifying the coffins as carrying the bodies of U.S. troops killed in Iraq. Times photo editors Friday could not be sure whether the coffins were from Iraq or Afghanistan, and a clarification runs today.