November 22, 1996: A Large Ball of Fire

Date: Sun, Dec 15, 1996 6:39 PM PST
The Associated Press
By FREDDY CUEVAS Associated Press Writer

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- A meteorite slammed into a sparsely populated area of Honduras last month, terrifying residents and leaving a 165-foot-wide crater, scientists confirmed Sunday.

Villagers reported seeing a fireball crash and break into small red and yellow pieces on Nov. 22 near San Luis, in the western province of Santa Barbara. But Sunday's statement was the first official word that the object was a meteorite.

Maria Cristina Pineda, a physicist from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, said Sunday that the meteorite was composed of materials that were 4 billion years old, Pineda said.

There was no word on the dimensions of the meteorite, but it was much smaller than the size of the crater. Some 50,000 years ago, a meteorite 180 feet wide smashed into northern Arizona and dug a crater 4,000 feet wide. And a 300-foot meteorite struck in Siberia in 1908, leveling trees for miles.

Residents of San Luis, 125 miles west of the capital, were terrified by the meteorite's crash, which sparked a fire that destroyed several acres of coffee plants and damaged a main highway.

"We saw a large ball of fire, with a long tail that rapidly descended from the sky and fell near San Luis, before our incredulous eyes," said Elmer Adan Rivera, a teacher from the region.

"I arrived almost immediately to the site of the explosion," said peasant Francisco Aguilar Sabillon. "There were enormous flames, and everything was destroyed. Because of that I fled from the place, frightened."

Authorities have asked those living nearby to stay away from the crash site. The meteorite did not appear to have any properties that would pose a threat to humans, they said.

FOLLOW-UP: Expedition to Honduras