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Sat, May 31, 2003

Oh, Hail!

BMI Flight Badly Damaged During Hailstorm Over Germany

"It was like a hail of bullets and then a huge thump. Everyone was screaming and we are lucky to be alive. Everyone clapped and cheered when we landed."

Bruce Johnson is a photojournalist who, along with his wife, owns several radio stations in New Zealand. Earlier this week, he was on BMI Flight 8412 from Larnaca, Cyprus, to Manchester, England, when the Airbus A312 ran smack into a thunderstorm over Germany.

Wild Ride

More than 200 passengers were on board the flight when, about two-and-a-half hours into the four-hour long journey, they hit the storm. The A312 was flying at 34,000 feet when the flight crew told passengers to return to their seats immediately.

Passenger David Mallen told the BBC, "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. The plane just dropped and started vibrating. Everybody was stuck on the ceiling. We were out of our seats for a few seconds and that happened two or three times. There were people in the aisles. 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."

Mallen's wife said, "It was an extremely terrifying experience for a few minutes. I really thought we were going down. It was like a roller coaster, the Big Dipper at Blackpool. Everybody was screaming and there were people on the floor in the aisles."

The Damage

The hailstones were as big as golf balls. A BMI spokesman told BBC, however, none of the aircraft's flight controls, power systems or navigational equipment was damaged. But, in looking at the aircraft, you might wonder how the flight crew managed to land the Airbus. The nosecone was punctured. The windscreen was fractured. And yet, incredibly, the flight crew was able to land the A312at its destination - Manchester.

Johnstone told the BBC, "We really didn't realise how bad it was until we saw the outside of the aircraft. The nose cone was stoved in and there were crack on the windscreen. It was pretty ragged. There were some children who were pretty distressed," he added.

A spokesman for BMI said, "The aircraft, as a precautionary measure, is now with the airline's engineers for a detailed inspection."

Well, yeah!

Correspondent Nathan Morley in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, contributed greatly to this story.

FMI: www.flybmi.com

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