Meteorite Affects Missionaries and Members in Russia

Contributed By By Janet Lamb Rust, Russia Yekaterinburg Mission, and Whitney Evans, Church News staff writer

  • 4 March 2013

Article Highlights

  • A meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, a city 950 miles east of Moscow, on February 15, 2013.
  • More than 1,000 people were injured in the blast. No members received serious injuries, but some had windows broken.
  • Within 30 minutes, all local missionaries had been contacted and were safe.

More than 1,000 people were injured when a meteorite traveling at 19 miles per second exploded over Chelyabinsk, a city 950 miles east of Moscow, raining fireballs and sending a shock wave over the area Friday morning, February 15, according to Reuters news service.

The same morning, in the Russia Yekaterinburg Mission, Elder Kendal King and Elder Benjamin Latimer, zone leaders serving in Chelyabinsk, were in the middle of their morning studies when something unusual happened.

In the wintertime the days are very short in this part of the world. The sun comes up later in the day, so when the light coming into their apartment around 9:15 seemed to be shining brighter than they had ever experienced, they took notice.

“It got brighter and brighter, reaching a brilliant, clear blue color that blinds the eyes, and fading into a reddish-orange, and completely disappearing,” Elder King wrote in an email. “From start to finish, a total of three to four seconds probably elapsed, but it felt [like] a lot longer.”

The elders heard a loud boom that caused the foundation of their home to shake and windows in the neighborhood to burst. They thought a missile had hit.

“We were pretty frightened because we thought this was it, this was the beginning of a war and we were in the middle of it,” Elder Latimer said.

The zone leaders, though shaken up and unaware as to what caused the bright light and resultant shock wave, followed the emergency protocol and tried to make contact with all the other missionaries in the city, but the phone systems were not working. Finally, they were able to get through to the assistants, who then called President E. Kent Rust, who instructed the missionaries to stay indoors until they could figure out what had happened, because initial projections were that the explosion could have been toxic. Within 30 minutes, all of the missionaries had been contacted and found to be safe—only a little frightened by the unusual event—with no broken windows. Everyone was relieved to find out it was a meteorite and not a missile and that their missionary service could continue on. They used this event to serve others in cleaning up and sharing a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Many of the members in Chelyabinsk experienced the same thing; some did have broken windows, but no serious injuries.

“[The meteorite] is the only thing people are still talking about,” Elder King said. “And it is making for some good service opportunities as we can help people and clean up broken windows.”

The next day the Chelyabinsk zone held a memorable baptism as well. They weren’t about to let anything postpone that event. Not even a meteorite.