Four students were injured, at least one seriously, when a rocket engineering club’s experiment exploded in a campus parking lot Thursday night, University of Idaho officials say.
The students, earlier described as alert and communicating, were all reportedly out of surgery and recovering by 9 a.m. Mountain Time Friday, when Dan Ewart, University of Idaho vice president for infrastructure, hosted a second news conference on the incident. At an earlier news conference, Ewart said that one person was in critical condition and three were “stable” at a local hospital, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports.
By late afternoon, all four students were in good condition.
The explosion happened about 9:50 p.m. Pacific Time Thursday in a parking lot east of the university’s steam plant on Sixth Street. The injured students’ names have not been publicly released, but their parents have been notified, officials said.
The student chapter of Northwest Organization of Rocket Engineers was conducting an experiment on rocket fuel and was not attempting to launch a rocket or other projectile, Ewart said.
The device used for the experiment was a galvanized metal pipe, 8 to 12 inches long and about 1.5 inches in diameter. It was placed on a wooden pallet that was destroyed in the explosion, he said.
The students reportedly wore protective gear, and Ewart said a faculty adviser was on hand for the experiment. It is unclear how many students were in the parking lot for the experiment, but no injuries were reported beyond the four club members who were taken to Gritman Medical Center in Moscow, Ewart said.
No other nearby cars or buildings were damaged, said Moscow Police Capt. Tyson Berrett, according to The Argonaut, the university’s student paper.
Grant Thurman, a member of the relatively new U of I club, told the Daily News that members were trying to test rocket fuel they had created. When one of the co-presidents lit the fuel, an explosion followed, Thurman told the newspaper, saying that man was in good spirits despite bearing the brunt of the explosion.
He said the student who lit the fuel was wearing a face shield, and club members watching wore eye protection, the Daily News reports. The other co-president who stood near the explosion wore eye protection but not a face shield, he said.
Moscow police are investigating the explosion, and the FBI is assisting in accordance with routine procedure. Police said at the morning news conference that it is “not a criminal investigation.”
Ewart said that the university is conducting a review of “the entire process.”