Spectators who gathered across the Central Coast to watch the launch of Firefly Aerospace's Alpha rocket — a privately designed, unmanned rocket built to carry satellites — instead saw it explode midair and debris rain down on nearby areas.

"I saw this thing floating down from the sky ... then another piece, then another, and then hundreds of pieces varying in size were falling," said Mike Hecker, a resident of Solvang who was out mountain biking in the Orcutt Hills with a large group of friends.

090221 Firefly explodes

Firefly Aerospace's Alpha rocket explodes minutes after launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in April 2021.

Lisa André covers lifestyles and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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