ARCHIVE VIDEO: 36 years ago, Hawaii lost Ellison Onizuka in Challenger disaster

Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 2:19 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 28, 2022 at 2:21 PM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thirty-six years ago Friday, the Challenger explosion killed seven astronauts ― including Ellison Onizuka from the Big Island.

The horrific scene was broadcast live on national television when, 73 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Station, the rocket exploded.


Onizuka was 39 when he died. He was NASA's first Asian American astronaut.

Born and raised in Kealakekua, Onizuka left a lasting legacy on the Big Island.

Onizuka's brother, Claude, saw the tragedy first-hand.

"We were about three miles from the launch site out in an open observation area. When the Challenger blew up, it was almost overhead," he said.

An investigation showed cold temperatures compromised the seals in the Challenger's twin rocket boosters.

Onizuka was born June 24, 1946 on Hawaii Island.
Onizuka was born June 24, 1946 on Hawaii Island.

Onizuka said when his brother was alive he prepared his family for a worst-case scenario.

“Ellison always told us if anything went wrong, it’s like sitting on top of a giant bomb,” Claude recounted when HNN interviewed him back in 2016.

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