MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — Four University of Idaho students are hospitalized, but alert and communicating, Friday after an explosion in a school parking lot where they had gathered to test a fuel system for an experimental rocket.
The device exploded after the fuel was ignited just before 10 p.m. Thursday at the lot outside the northern Idaho university’s steam plant.
A faculty adviser to the Northwest Organization of Rocket Engineers club was with the students, university spokeswoman Jodi Walker said. He was not injured.
The injured students were transported to Gritman Medical Center in Moscow, Idaho. Hospital spokesman Eric Hollenbeck reported that all were in good condition. Initially, hospital officials had said one student was in critical condition.
The school said the students, whose names haven’t been released, were alert and communicating with university officials Friday morning. Vice President Daniel Ewart said the four students underwent surgery.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating the incident, but it is not a criminal investigation, Moscow Police Chief James Fry said.
“There is no reason to believe this is anything other than an accident at this point,” Walker said.
The club members did not intend to launch the experimental rocket, Ewart said. Instead, they were using a device made up of a galvanized pipe, which measured about a foot (0.3 meter) in length and an 1 inch and a half (27 millimeters) in diameter, to test the fuel, he said.
“There was no intention to launch a rocket,” Ewart said.
Ewart did not know how many people were in the vicinity of the explosion.
Grant Thurman, a student and member of the Northwest Organization of Rocket Engineers, said the club was attempting to test the rocket fuel, but when one of the club’s co-presidents ignited the fuel, it exploded.
“We were testing a new fuel design for the rocket engine and we didn’t have reason to believe it would blow up or anything because it was a slow-burning fuel,” Thurman said. “But as soon as it was lit, it blew up.”
Thurman said the man igniting the fuel wore face protection, but the others wore only eye protection.
The club is made up of students and faculty who design and test rockets.
The school said there’s no damage to the steam plant, which heats most of the campus.
Ewart said that classes on the 12,000-student campus would not be interrupted Friday.
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