3 workers killed in Mojave test site explosion are identified

Times Staff Writer

Authorities on Friday identified three workers who were killed in an explosion on the edge of Kern County’s Mojave airport during the test of a component for a pioneering private spaceship.

The men, all employees of Scaled Composites, were identified as Eric Dean Blackwell, 38, of Randsburg; Charles Glen May, 45, of Mojave; and Todd Ivens, 33, of Tehachapi. All three died of multiple blunt-force injuries suffered in the explosion, said John Van Rensselaer, a Kern County supervising deputy coroner.

Three other men were also badly injured in Thursday’s blast at a private test site run by Scaled Composites, which was founded by high-profile aviation entrepreneur Burt Rutan.


Rutan said it was the first injury during a test in the company’s 25-year history. The men remain in critical but stable condition and are expected to survive.

Ivens, who had been taken by helicopter to Kern Medical Center, went into cardiac arrest and died after medics used mechanical life support, CPR and surgery in an unsuccessful attempt to revive him, Van Rensselaer said.

The explosion about 2:30 p.m. Thursday was believed to have occurred when a tank of nitrous oxide ignited during a routine test of a propellant system for the spaceship.

As of Friday, the cause was still under investigation by state and county officials, said airport general manager Stuart Witt. He said he was trying to create an independent investigation team to investigate the cause.

“We know we had people injured in this airport,” Witt said, “and we intend to find out why.”

In June 2004, Scaled Composites became the first private company to launch a reusable manned rocket into space. The craft was known as SpaceShip One. Thursday’s blast involved a test on a component part of SpaceShip Two, a project whose details had been closely guarded by Scaled Composites.


At the airport Friday, the U.S. and California flags were flown at half-staff, but business had returned to normal. Although some employees of Scaled Composites were at the airport, the company was closed as it is every other Friday, and no one could be reached for comment.