Pima County and its taxpayers are the landlords of the World View Spaceport, the Board of Supervisors having authorized a $15 million debt to borrow the money to build the facility. With interest, the county estimates the total cost at $20 million. The Spaceport, known best for launching a Kentucky Fried Chicken Sandwich to the edge of space from a site in Page, and for offering $75,000 space tourist flights in its high-altitude balloons, has been a high priority cause for County Administrator Charles Huckelberry as a “high economic development source.”
On December 19, 2017, a hydrogen balloon exploded, breaking windows and shattering ceiling tiles a mile away. World View, Pima County, and the media were silent until the Arizona Daily Independent ran a story with a video of the explosion. Questions from Supervisor Ally Miller forced release of preliminary investigations which showed far more than the “superficial” damage claimed by the County Administrator.
As a result an “independent investigation” was announced by Huckelberry on February 8, with Assistant County Administrator John “Dutch” Voorhees assigned as the county’s representative. The team would be headed by NASA retiree Wayne Hale. On February 15 “Dutch” Voorhees wrote to World View, “I would expect the county to receive a written, publically releasable (ie sanitized) incident investigation report.” He stressed that “privileged information” could be left out.
The investigation, we now know, began February 12 and was completed in five days, but neither the Board of Supervisors nor the public nor the media were made aware of that. When ADI sought information for a six-month “anniversary” story in June, both Hale and World View refused to comment.
“Dutch” Voorhees, reached by phone on June 15, told us “the investigation has been concluded,” that a “Draft Report” had been completed; that the county was “reviewing the draft.” He called it a “slow-moving ballgame,” that the county, “as landlords, we have to be deliberate and careful.” He said the report would be given to elected officials “in another month or so,” “after review” and then it would become a public document. It sounded like the report was being “sanitized” before release, a cover-up, and ADI ran a story asking that question on June 17.
An Open Letter to the Board of Supervisors was presented by occasional ADI writer Albert Lannon on July 3 asking those same questions, with copies sent to various media sources. ADI and the Three Sonorans news blog ran the full text, while the Arizona Daily Star declined to run a Guest Opinion by Lannon.
Taking the story public appears to have been what was needed to get the now-five-month-old report into the light of day. Huckelberry sent the “sanitized” report to the Supervisors on July 12, and Supervisor Ally Miller immediately posted it on her web page. World View’s cover memo to Huckelberry is dated May 21.
What has been released, according to Huckelberry’s July 12 memo, is not the “more in-depth report for the internal use of World View Enterprises.” That report, it appears, will remain a secret from the Board of Supervisors and the public. Huckelberry continues to insist that damage was “superficial,” as he did on February 8, adding now that it was also “significant.” Independent knowledgeable observers looking at damage reports and photographs early in the year told us that the damage was much more than superficial.
The upshot is that World View has hired a first-ever Safety Director, hired a consultant for safety training, is expanding its safety training, and established a “Mission Operations organization,” to, presumably, help prevent future explosions. The “Independent Incident Review Team” (IIRT) headed by Hale found that World View “incorrectly assessed both the probability and possible consequences of on explosive event….” The IIRT recommended “rigorous additional safety measures be implemented.” Those were not, however, spelled out. At least not in the “sanitized” version.
“Current safety practices,” the IIRT told World View, “should be improved. Changes to culture, practices, procedures, protocols, documentation, accountability and communication will be required.” They found that some personnel had “excessive workloads.”
The “sanitized” report and memorandums can be accessed at Supervisor Ally Miller’s website: https://www.allymillerdistrict1.com/
|Charles Huckelberry memo, July 12, 2018:|
existing or occurring at or on the surface.
sufficiently great or important to be worthy of attention; noteworthy.
There are many as-yet-unanswered questions: What has been left out of the “sanitized” report? Why the three-month-long delay by World View in sending the report to Pima County? A “slow-moving ballgame” implies negotiations and revisions, the “sanitizing” of a cover-up. Why another two-month delay in sending the report to the Board of Supervisors? More cover-up?
A Freedom of Information Act request was made on July 11 to the County Administrator’s office for the original report and copies of any communications between World View, Pima County and the IIRT since the original report was completed in February. Stay tuned.