Dr. Larry Godfrey, who was senior medical officer investigating the January 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, has been hired as Montana's new state chief medical examiner.

The announcement by Attorney General Mike Greely ends a 15-month national search for someone to replace Dr. Ron Rivers, who resigned to become chief medical examiner for San Diego, Calif.In addition to his medical examiner duties, Godfrey also will be administrator of the state Division of Forensic Science at Missoula, which includes the state crime lab.

As chief medical examiner, Godfrey will be responsible for supervising or conducting autopsies in major criminal cases and accidents. He takes over his new position Aug. 1 and will earn $90,000 a year.

"Dr. Godfrey is a very distinguished forensic pathologist," Greely said. "We are very fortunate that he has accepted our offer."

He said Godfrey, 39, is a nationally recognized expert in aircraft accident investigations.

Before accepting his new job, the West Virginia native was staff pathologist and medical director of cyptopathology at Tripler Medical center in Honolulu, where he worked since 1978. Prior to that, he was staff pathologist at the Aerospace Division of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C.

He holds the rank of major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.