Guam officials were not informed about rocket debris

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GHS Administrator Charles Esteves says that they have no means of tracking such an event as it is not part of their mission as crisis and consequence managers.

The administrator of the Guam Offices of Homeland Security and Civil Defense agrees with the Federal Aviation Administration’s assessment that the object that streaked across the night sky over the Marianas Friday night was debris from a Chinese rocket launched earlier that evening.

Charles Esteves told reporters Monday that “we’re going with what FAA said. They put out their official statement on their system, their NOTAMS system, saying that it was in fact space debris.”

Esteves also said Homeland Security was not informed about the possibility of debris from a Chinese space launch falling over the Marianas.

“We knew when it was happening,” said Esteves, but not before it happened, even though the FAA put out a warning to pilots a few days prior.

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FAA air traffic control manager Tim Cornelison told the Pacific News Center Saturday that his office received notification several days before the occurrence through an aviation network that publishes notices to airmen.

That system is known as the NOTAM, which stands for notice to airmen.

The notice published by the FAA on the NOTAM system last week advised pilots to stay clear of an area along 14 and 15 degrees north latitude where debris from a Chinese rocket launch was expected.

Guam is at 13.4 degrees north latitude, Saipan is at 15.1 degrees north.

However, Esteves said that warning to airmen posed no threat to Guam.

“Was there a threat to Guam?” Esteves asked himself, “the answer is no,” he said.

When it was pointed out that the debris might have fallen on Guam, Esteves said: “We don’t want to play the ‘what if game.’ It fell north of Saipan. Saipan is pretty far from Guam.”

The FAA notice was not shared with Guam Homeland Security, nor was it provided to the Governor of Guam or the public on Guam or in the CNMI.

When asked for her reaction to the lack of notification, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said her office should have been notified, “Yes. Absolutely,” she said.

The governor said she would address the oversight with her Homeland Security advisor and the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command.

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The NOTAM notice states:

“The China National Space Administration has planned a rocket launch. Debris from this launch will fall within an area defined as 1425n/14853e to 1518n/14906e to 1547n/14655e to 1454n/14643e to point of origin. In the interest of safety, all non-participating air traffic are advised to avoid the NOTAMED area. If aircraft under ATC jurisdiction should anticipate clearance around the NOTAMED area. Sfc-unl, 27 dec 12:43 2019 until 27 dec 16:41 2019. Created: 24 dec 16:32 2019.”

Statement from Guam Homeland Security / Office of Civil Defense

Chinese Commercial Launch Prompts Affirmative Action

On Friday, December 27, 2019 around 11:25 p.m., the Offices of Guam Homeland Security and Civil Defense (GHS/OCD) received multiple reports and inquiries of recordings of what appeared to be a streaking fireball falling from the sky.

Working with partners from the U.S. National Weather Service, Weather Forecast Office Guam, GHS/OCD issued the first notice to the public that it was considered a possible meteorite, but could not definitively state what it was.

Separately, Chinese media outlets reported that a heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket carrying a test satellite payload blasted off from the Weycheng launch site on the Southern Island of Hainan. This corresponded with a notice from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Notice to Airmen of the mission. GHS/OCD then issued a second statement based on the new, updated information received.

GHS/OCD worked to provide timely information to the public with the information at hand.

“This incident was not a threat to the Marianas. Following the Chinese launch event, I have met with Joint Region Marianas and am working closely with the FAA on a way forward for incidents like these,” stated Tim Aguon, Homeland Security Advisor. “I am grateful for the working relationships we have now with JRM. Our office, along with our local, military and federal partners, will continue to monitor the events surrounding our region.”

“From the event, we found the gaps in communication between federal authorities and their counterparts,” stated Governor Lou Leon Guerrero. “I have instructed the Homeland Security Advisor to help close those gaps in the future. The safety of the community is our priority here and part of that is making sure all are informed so when incidents do happen, they can prepare and react accordingly.”

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Jolene Toves
Jolene joined the PNC team in 2017, as a producer, co-anchor and investigative reporter covering law enforcement, courts and crimes. Notable coverage includes the Ehlert case, the Mark Torre Jr. trial, the Allan Agababa trial, exclusive pieces on the Life of a Drug Dealer/Addict, and Life behind bars...the story of Honofre Chargualaf and Kevin Cruz. In 2019, she was promoted to Assistant News Director and Lead Anchor. From 2015 to 2017 she served as Public Relations and Promotions Manager, for the Hotel Nikko Guam handling local radio and advertorial promotions, as well as produced and directed tv commercials for the hotel. Prior to this she worked with KUAM for three years as a reporter and segment host. She began her journalism career in 2012, working with Glimpses of Guam contributing to the Guam Business Magazine, R&R magazine, MDM magazine and the Marianas Business Journal.