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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 20:08 GMT 21:08 UK
Huge hailstones cause flight 'mayhem'
Hail-damaged BMI jet at Manchester Airport
The plane landed safely at Manchester Airport
A hailstorm left a hole the size of a football in a plane which had more than 200 passengers on board.

The BMI Airbus was flying to Manchester Airport from Cyprus when it encountered heavy turbulence.

One passenger described the experience as like "a rollercoaster ride".

The plane managed to land safely on Monday evening.

Passenger David Mallon said the ordeal began when flight crew asked passengers to return to their seats.

He said: "Within seconds of the announcement all hell broke loose, to put it mildly - it was a frightening experience.

"I have never felt anything like it and I hope I never feel anything like it again.

Bruce Johnstone, passenger
There were a lot of people who let out involuntary screams and some very distressed young children crying near us
Bruce Johnstone, passenger

"The pilot said that in his 20 years of flying experience he had never encountered anything quite like it and, to reassure the passengers, he said it would be very unlikely if we ever encountered anything like it again."

Fellow passenger Bruce Johnstone, from New Zealand, said many people on board began screaming.

"There were a lot of people who let out involuntary screams and some very distressed young children crying near us.

"I understand from people at the back there was quite a bit more mayhem going on.

'Bucked and twisted'

"Certainly one gentleman very close to me was on the deck in the aisle clutching onto anything he could hold onto as the plane bucked and twisted and bounced up and down very violently.

"When we saw the windscreen we were really gobsmacked to see the damage that had occurred to the outside of the plane.

"At the time we could definitely hear the sound of hail hitting the plane but we had no idea it had done so much damage to the outside."

Former British Airways pilot Eric Moody questioned why the jet had not avoided the thunderstorm.

He said: "Occasionally, very, very occasionally you can get caught out but something like a big thunderstorm will show up on the radar and certainly with hail about an inch across.

'What sort of damage'

"Perhaps it didn't look that bad but when you got in it, it was rather different.

"What sort of damage was done to the engines with these big hailstones?

A BMI spokesperson said that, while the aircraft was damaged, none of its operational systems were affected.

The spokesperson added: "The aircraft, as a precautionary measure, is now with the airline's engineers for a detailed inspection."

The pilot's window was also cracked by the large hailstones.

The flight had left Larnaca at 1000 BST and hit the storm over Germany an hour-and-a-half before it was due to land.

It is not believed that any of the 213 passengers and eight crew were badly injured.

The BBC's Catherine Marston
"Some passengers think the pilot is a hero"

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27 May 03  |  Manchester
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17 Jan 02  |  Asia-Pacific

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