'Rockets' reported fired at two jetliners
Federal Aviation Administration is investigating a report by the pilot of
Southwest Flight 454 that he saw what looked like a model rocket pass on the
left side of his aircraft Sunday evening.
FAA says it has no reports of the rocket sighting by the Alexandria resident,
Joyce Mucci. The trade association
public relations coordinator said she observed the incident while driving home
from work Jan. 20 at sunset near Reagan Airport.
was like a rocket, kind of a reddish thing that came up from the river
bank," Mrs. Mucci said. "It was aimed toward the back of the jet.
Maybe the pilot didn't see it." Mrs.
Mucci said she doubted it was a model rocket.
"It did not look like any model rocket I've ever seen," she
said. Her son used to play with model rockets when he was a child.
"When he was a kid, we used to make model rockets, and they don't
look like that. It was right toward the back of the jet, right behind the
engine. It went at an angle like it was aimed at the jet."
added, however, that the object did not get close enough that it could have
brought down the airplane. "It
may be nothing, but it's important for somebody to follow up on this," Mrs.
Mucci said. She said the
"flare or rocket" rose from a spot down the slope of the Potomac River
beyond the jogging trail next to Reagan Airport, halfway between Memorial Bridge
and the airport.
said she called a Federal Aviation Administration telephone number the next day.
She left a message on voice mail but received no reply.
After news accounts of the incident at BWI Sunday, Mrs. Mucci called the
FBI yesterday. "The FBI guy
said, 'Hold on a minute,'" Mrs. Mucci said. "Then a woman in the
background said, 'I don't want to talk to another psychic.' Then I was put
through to somebody's voice mail and I didn't leave a message."
Eastern Region spokesman Jim Peters said he had no information on Mrs. Mucci's
January report. "We have
no record of receiving a call from Mrs. Mucci on or about that day," Mr.
Peters said. He also said he had
"no idea" of how often other people say they have seen rockets near
spokesman Chris Murray said, "Our office is unaware of that incident."
Flight 454 was on approach 12 to 14 miles southeast of BWI at 3,000 feet at 7:10
p.m. Sunday when the pilot said he
saw the rocket. The FAA
acknowledged the incident at BWI publicly for the first time Tuesday. Mr.
Peters said yesterday the agency was looking into it.
Jones, spokesman for the national office of the FAA, said reports of rockets
flying toward airplanes are rare. "We
don't tally those that I'm aware of," Mr. Jones said. "I have not
heard of reports of that kind before."
airport authorities also said they are unaware of a "flare or rocket"
near Reagan Aiirport in January. "I haven't heard anything about that," said
Tom Sullivan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority,
which manages Reagan and Washington Dulles International airports. "If it
was reported by our tower, our police would have been alerted."
Mucci's report was the first time he heard of someone seeing a projectile
apparently fired at a commercial airplane in the Washington area. Occasionally,
passers-by mistakenly report "near misses but not rockets," Mr.
The only similar report of a rocket fired at a commercial airplane in the United States followed the explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of New York on July 17, 1996. The National Transportation Safety Board explained the witness' reports by saying that after the front part of the plane broke off during an electrical fire and fuel-tank explosion, the wings and rear part of the fuselage continued climbing at a sharp angle, creating an upward streak of light. All 230 persons on board were killed.