Scott Jones, a University of Idaho student, heard a loud boom as he walked the greenbelt Thursday night.
By the time he arrived at the scene, he said emergency officials were already attending to the four UI students who were injured in an explosion at the steam plant parking lot.
Originally thought to be an explosion from a test rocket, Dan Ewart, vice president of Infrastructure, said the students used testing fuel but no rocket or projectile. They were using a “galvanized metal pipe,” and the fuel burned too fast, setting off the explosion, he said.
The students underwent surgery at Gritman Medical Center, Ewart said.
Jodi Walker, from University Commications and Marketing, said three of the students have been released from the hospital, and the one left is still in good condition.
The students cannot be identified at this time, but Ewart confirmed they were all part of the Northwest Organization of Rocket Engineers (NORE), a UI student organization formed this semester. Three out of the four injured were engineering students.
NORE member Grant Thurman, who was at the scene, said the organization conducted a similar experiment last week, but made changes to the design to improve the effectiveness of the fuel.
“It was pretty lackluster, and so we were kind of expecting the same thing this time,” he said.
Because of this expectation, students were relatively close to the pipe when it exploded, he said.
Emergency officials responded within minutes of the explosion and Moscow Police Chief James Fry said they spoke with the injured individuals at the scene. He said the FBI also came in as a matter of protocol, since they have technical resources to investigate explosions that the Moscow Police Department does not.
“It was poetry in motion to see all the different agencies working together … That was Moscow at its finest right there,” Corporal Casey Green said.
The explosion could be heard from at least downtown Moscow, and drew many in the community. Ewart said this made it difficult to gauge how many were originally at the scene.
Ewart said the university is currently reviewing the case, and it is possible UI policy may be revised to prevent future incidents.
“The safety of our entire Vandal family is always our utmost concern,” Ewart said. “We wish the injured students a full recovery and will continue to keep the community informed of updates as they’re available.”
Ian Hahn contributed to this report.
Nina Rydalch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org