Delta Airlines 747 Jet Destroyed By Hail During Flight To Seoul – Where Are The Limits In The Skies?

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Twitter and aviation news were full this last week with people tweeting images of a Delta Airlines 747 which was en route from Detroit to Seoul as DL159 on June 16th 2015 when the plane hit a hail storm in Chinese airspace. For unknown reasons it was not possible for the Chinese Air Traffic Control (ATC) to vector the flight around this storm and the pilots were forced to fly through it. The result can be seen in the shocking images uploaded by a user on Instagram:

Hail-Damage DL

I think this demonstrates the horrible ride it must have been on board. I haven’t had the chance to read a pilots version of what impact such a damage has on the aircraft and it’s aerodynamic and flying capability but I can’t imagine it to be a cakewalk.

Another image shows that the wings were also badly damaged.

DL Wing Holes

The Aviation Herald reported that the aircraft is still on the ground since it landed on the 17th of June with no flying activity. It might never fly again if the effort to make this plane airworthy again is not in relation to the future use.

A Delta Airlines Boeing 747-400, registration N664US performing flight DL-159 (dep Jun 16th) from Detroit,MI (USA) to Seoul (South Korea), was enroute over China when the aircraft encountered hail causing substantial damage to the aircraft’s radome (hail penetrating the radome causing a large hole) as well as leading edges of wings and tail plane. The aircraft continued to destination for a safe landing.

The aircraft is still on the ground in Seoul 13 days after landing.

A passenger reported while over China the aircraft encountered severe turbulence and hail. The crew announced they had requested to deviate around weather but did not receive clearance to do so.

According to planespotters.net information the aircraft is 26 years old which emphasizes that this incident may have very well sealed the fate of this airframe in terms of it’s worthiness to repair even if this was possible.

Airframe Info N664US

Conclusion

A very rare and unfortunate incident, thankfully everyone on board is ok and the crew was able to land this plane safely without loss of life or injury. The ride must have been horrible.

What strikes me as odd is that the Chinese air traffic control was unable to clear this flight for a different flight path, ultimately resulting in this incident. If there was indeed not much traffic in this area that will be an essential question. Chinese Airspace is known for often being very congested making an unplanned change in routes difficult. Nevertheless if there is not even any space to maneuver during an emergency or weather obstacles one has to ask if the skies there are slowly reaching a limit and in how far Chinese ATC is able to respond to incidents such as this.

I have flown in and out of China many dozen times especially domestic flights are often heavily delayed due to Air Traffic congestion. So far I have only seen this as an inconvenience, not as a safety issue.

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