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From heaven to Huntington

Orange County residents crowd H.B. Pier for a glimpse of space shuttle Endeavour as it takes its last flight.

September 21, 2012|By Mona Shadia
  • The space shuttle Endeavour flies over the Orange County coastline on its way to Los Angeles International Airport on Friday.
The space shuttle Endeavour flies over the Orange County… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Hundreds who gathered on the Huntington Beach Pier and the beach in anticipation of space shuttle Endeavour's journey over the coast left disappointed.

"It's a bust," said Huntington Beach resident Joe Giordano.

Giordano said he thought about staying home, but decided to go to the pier for what he thought would be the best view.

Endeavour made its rounds in Southern California atop Boeing 747 aircraft, and while it was visible around 12:30 p.m. to those on the pier, it stayed more inland.

"It was close, but not close enough," said Char Austero of Newport Beach, who said she got to the Huntington Beach Pier earlier in the day for a good spot. "We drove over in the morning with our coffee to come watch it. It's a beautiful day. It was fun because of the people, but it's disappointing because we couldn't see it."

Still, the minute people got a glimpse of the shuttle, cheers filled the air and spectators en masse simultaneously moved to grab one last look, take pictures or record it with their cameras.

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The lucky ones were those who decided to stake out a spot near the Boeing campus on Bolsa Chica Street. There, Endeavour was much more visible to the couple of hundred people there, said resident Julie Bixby.

"The word I kept hearing was 'amazing,' and that about sums it up — amazing," she said, adding that it flew pretty close down to where they were.

Bixby, 45, said she has always been a fan of the space shuttle program. She was fortunate enough to watch a couple of landings, she said.

"When you're there in person to experience it, it just goes through your body and it's super, super cool," Bixby said.

Yorba Linda resident Suzanne Hobbs, 54, watched in 1992 as Endeavour took off for its first mission from Florida, she said. On Friday, she went to the pier to watch it take its last flight.

"I saw the beginning, and now I want to see the end," she said.

It just so happens that Sept. 21 was the fourth anniversary of Justin Prior's passing from brain cancer, said his friend Dave Fox, 38, a Huntington Beach resident.

Fox goes to the pier every year along with Prior's parents and friends to place flowers in his memory at the place he loved: the beach.

Prior, who was 32 when he passed away, taught Fox how to surf when he was just 13.

With flowers in hand, Fox said Friday's flyover makes this year's anniversary even more special. It gave him the opportunity to show Prior's daughter, Kayla, 4, who was just a few months old when her father died, a piece of heaven.

"I'm going to try to explain to his daughter that the space shuttle goes to heaven, where daddy is," he said.

Friday was also Paige Bantz's second birthday, and though she isn't likely to remember it, her parents, Katherine and Shawn Bantz, wanted to make sure she experienced it. When she's old enough to remember, the Endeavour will be consigned to the history books, they said.

"We are hoping she'll be able to say that she was here for the final landing," Katherine Bantz said.

mona.shadia@latimes.com

Twitter: @MonaShadia

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