CALGARY — Emergency officials scrambled to respond early Friday after reports that rocket debris from space was minutes away from striking Alberta.
It was such a close call that the Alberta Emergency Management Agency was within seconds of issuing a public warning notice.
Had the space debris struck a residential area, it would have caused massive casualties, said Colin Lloyd, executive director of planning and operations for the agency.
“It probably would have been significant loss of life,” he said. “It would have brought into play the mass casualty plans for the city of Calgary.”
The crisis was averted after a change in the trajectory of the debris, which landed in the Atlantic Ocean instead.
“This is an extraordinary event,” he said. “Most events, even though they might be emergencies, have some form of lead-time attached to them. So this was a pretty big test for us.”
The falling debris — approximately 10 metres square — was first reported to Canadian authorities by the North American Aerospace Defence Command.
That set off a chain of events in Alberta as emergency officials scrambled to organize for the impact. Premier Ed Stelmach was notified and the government’s emergency operation centre was put on high alert.
The initial trajectory was to take the rocket debris into Calgary, but officials soon changed their analysis and estimated the fall would be in rural Wheatland County, about 110 kilometres east.
Stelmach was immediately notified of the space junk’s possible crash landing on Alberta soil, said his spokesman Tom Olsen, but the emergency dissipated quite soon afterward.
“We certainly advised him that there was this developing issue,” Olsen said. “He was very concerned.”
The Government Emergency Operations Centre sprang into action, and soon was prepared to send out a public warning, he noted.
“He was aware from the beginning that there was this potential threat,” Olsen said.
If the massive chunk of space debris was indeed going to land on Wheatland County, the area’s longtime reeve wasn’t notified.
“I just heard about it an hour ago and that’s the first I’ve heard of it all day,” Ben Armstrong said Friday evening.
He joked that the county’s emergency preparedness plan likely doesn’t include provisions for dodging Russian rocket debris from space.
“If something that big is coming at you from outer space I guess you just stay the hell out of the way or put your head between your knees and kiss yourself goodbye.”