DES MOINES, Iowa – Astronaut Laurel Clark's death on the space shuttle Columbia was the second sudden and very public tragedy to hit Doug and Betty Haviland in 17 months.
Laurel Clark was their niece and her final moments were broadcast again and again on television Saturday, exploding white dots 200,000 feet above the earth.
On Sept. 11, 2001, television had first brought tragedy. The Havilands were watching after the World Trade Center absorbed the impact of a terrorist-piloted jetliner, burned, then collapsed with their 41-year-old son Timothy inside.
"It was a very deja vu sort of thing, you know, we watched those towers smoking and eventually collapsing and then you see this space shuttle breaking apart. Here it is all over again," said Doug Haviland, a 76-year-old retired Episcopal minister from Ames, Iowa.
Clark, 41, was one of seven astronauts on board the space shuttle when it disintegrated streaking over Texas toward a landing at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Saturday.
The Haviland's son, Timothy, worked for Marsh & McLennan Inc., on the 96th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. He and Laurel Clark were friends as well as cousins.
"Tim had planned to go to the launch, but it was not to be," said his mother, Betty Haviland, 73.
Instead, Clark and her son ended up attending a memorial for Timothy in November 2001.
Timothy's wife, Amy, lost a brother in the Sept. 11 attacks. Robert W. Spear Jr., 30, was a firefighter with the New York Fire Department.
Betty Haviland couldn't but mention the slim chances of any husband and wife watching the broadcast deaths of two loved ones.
"Grief and death happens to a lot of people, but you don't usually watch it on national television and not once but a thousand times. And you can't not watch because that's your son or your niece up there," Betty Haviland said.
Doug Haviland said he spoke briefly Saturday with his sister, Marjory, Clark's mother.
"She's in the most difficult situation in this event. So I'm sure she's feeling pretty numb and swamped as we were when the 9/11 tragedy happened," Haviland said. "Hopefully, we can support her as much as possible."
Astronaut Clark was born in Ames while her father studied at Iowa State University. She lived in the central Iowa town for two years before moving with her family to Racine, Wis., which she considered her hometown.
The Havilands said they got to see Clark at family gatherings or when she came to visit her 96-year-old grandmother at an Ames retirement home.
Doug Haviland said his last message from her was an e-mail sent to relatives from space.
"I just picked (it) up yesterday. She was, you know, thrilled taking lots of pictures and could see the area in Wisconsin on one of their pass-overs where they had lived for several years ... looking forward to sharing all this with her friends and family," Haviland said. "She died doing what she wanted to do."