Yeah, I remember reading of veteran Shuttle reentry viewers watching, and knowing from the color of the Shuttle reentry heating that something was very wrong. Sent chills reading of that.
On an earlier Endeavor night landing approach over East Texas I watched the most spectacular light show of a lifetime. As Endeavor came across at about 500,000 feet very bright, with a sonic boom and its ionized trail hung in the sky for at least 2 minutes. Our place was about 50 miles north of the track.
Every flight afterwards I would try to watch the landing. I had not previously been able to see much trail from a daylight landing, but curiously that day several slower tracks were seen overhead as NASA Channel showed the landing path and it was obvious this was not a normal landing. After a minute or two you could hear the desparation from NASA as they could not find Columbia on radar or on the landing strip at KSC.
That sight I will never forget. Their last ride must have been wild and like watching a train wreck from the train in slo mo.