May 6th, 2010
08:28 AM ET

Two die after Alabama rocket facility blast

Two workers burned in an explosion at an Alabama military contractor's facility died Wednesday night, authorities said.

The two employees of Huntsville-based contractor Amtec Corp. were working with ammonium perchlorate, a chemical used in solid fuel rockets, when the explosion happened.

The blast happened at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday at a test area at the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal Huntsville, Alabama, facility, said Jeanna Reitmeier, an Army spokeswoman.

"We are deeply saddened by these events and remain steadfast to our commitment to investigate the situation, discover the cause and work to prevent future incidents from occurring," an Army statement said.

The names of the workers were not released. Both suffered third-degree burns over more than 80 percent of their bodies and were flown to the University of Alabama at Birmingham's medical center for treatment, said Kenneth Burke, a field supervisor with Huntsville Emergency Medical Services.

A third employee nearby escaped unhurt, Redstone Arsenal said.

Redstone Arsenal has been the center of the Army's missile and rocket programs since the 1950s, when it became the home for the contingent of German rocket scientists who surrendered to American forces at the end of World War II. Their research was instrumental in the development of the U.S. space program in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Civilian rocket research was moved to NASA's neighboring Marshall Space Flight Center in 1960. Redstone Arsenal now concentrates on the development of military weapons systems ranging from short-range rockets to ballistic missile defense systems.

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