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Runs to the ground after tennis ball-sized hail drops Jumbo jet

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A wide-body jet traveling from Italy to the United States spent just 90 minutes in the air before returning to take-off airport after hailstones, including some the size of tennis balls, pounded the cockpit, nose cone and wings.

The Emirates flight from Milan Malpensa Airport to New York JFK International landed safely after circling a Boeing 777-31H aircraft for 90 minutes to burn fuel.

Emirates reported no injuries during the July 13 flight, but photos taken on the ground showed the shattered cockpit windows, smashed nose and hole-riddled fuselage. Some of the impacts support the conclusion that the hailstones were at least 2-1/2 inches in diameter.

Hail damage in airplane
A hailstorm shattered the windshield of an Emirates Boeing 777 en route from Italy to New York on July 13, 2021.
Fly Milan Malpensa / Zenger

The pilot reported entering a hailstorm at 15,000 feet above the Italian and Swiss Alps, according to the Milan airport authority. Severe thunderstorms were reported across northern Europe at the time. “After about 97 minutes from takeoff [the plane] returned to Malpensa,” the agency said.

The Emirates flight would be a transatlantic journey, meaning the plane had a full tank of fuel. It is standard practice to burn most of the extra fuel in a holding cartridge to limit the possibility of an explosive landing if the hailstorm had damaged the wing flaps or landing gear.

Damage to the front of the plane due to hail
Passengers on the Emirates flight from Milan’s Malpensa Airport to New York’s JFK International were rebooked a day later on a new flight on a different aircraft.
Fly Milan Malpensa / Zenger

Airport officials said high winds continued to cause problems for the flight, which struggled to land and took two attempts to land safely.

The passengers were transferred to another flight the next day.

Emirates resumed flights to New York in June after a long pandemic hiatus and has had daily flights to the United States in July.

Hailstorms on the ground are experienced by gravity as downpours, just like rain. But in the air, hail can erupt in many directions at once — and the impact at high speeds can be just as dangerous as other solid projectiles.

Hail damage outside
Photos showed hail damage to the Emirates jet, which spent just 97 minutes in the air, burning its fuel before making two landing attempts.
Fly Milan Malpensa / Zenger

The cockpit windshields of Boeing and Airbus passenger aircraft are two-layered, meaning a pilot can control the aircraft with a crack in the outer panel if the inner windshield remains intact. But it can still cause vision problems, according to the Flight Safety Foundation.

Storms can also damage an aircraft’s turret, the turret that protects radar equipment typically placed under the nose cone. While a crippled radar antenna would pose a challenge to pilots, it’s not inherently dangerous, the foundation says.

If in-flight hail entered an aircraft engine, it could bend or break a compressor blade. But jet engines are built to withstand high-velocity impacts from larger objects, including living birds.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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