Objects falling from the sky

In so far as I know, no person on the ground has been killed by an object falling from a commercial aircraft in flight. I’m happy to be corrected if that situation has changed. Strangely, in contrast there are plenty of reports of people falling from aircraft and being killed as a result[1]. Additionally, there are cases of parts shed by aircraft that subsequently contribute to an aircraft accident[2].

The most frequent reports of falling objects, in and around airports are not parts of an aircraft but that which is in the atmosphere all the time. Namely, ice. When it hits the ground in the form of a hailstorm it can be damaging. In flight, it can be seriously damaging to an aircraft.

What I’m writing about here are the third-party risks. That’s when an innocent individual finds themselves the target of an improbable event, some might call an act of God. Ice falls are rare. However, given the volume of worldwide air traffic there’s enough of them to be alert to the problem. As soon as ice accretes to create lumps bigger than a kilo there’s a real danger.

Can ice falls be prevented? Here again there’s no doubt some are because of poor maintenance or other preventable factors, but others are just nature doing its thing. Regulators are always keen to collect data on the phenomena[3]. It’s something that goes on in the background and where the resources allow there can even be follow-up investigations.

Near misses do make the newspaper headlines. The dramatic nature of the events, however rare, can be like a line from a horror movie[4]. Other cases are more a human-interest story than representing a great risk to those on the ground[5].

It’s worth noting that falling objects can be quite different from what they are first reported to be. That can be said about rare events in general.

I remember being told of one case where a sharp metal object fell into a homeowner’s garden. Not nice at all. The immediate reaction was to conclude it came from an aircraft flying overhead. Speculation then started a new story, and the fear of objects falling from aircraft was intensified.

Subsequently, an investigation found that this metal object had more humble terrestrial origins. In a nearby industrial estate a grinding wheel had shattered at highspeed sending debris flying into the air. Parts of which landed in the garden of the unfortunate near-by resident.

One lesson from this tale is that things may not always be as they first seem. Certainly, with falling objects, it’s as well to do an investigation before blaming an aircraft.  

POST 1: There’s a threat outside the atmosphere too. The space industries are ever busier. That old saying about “what goes up, must come down” is true of rockets and space junk. More a hazard to those on the ground, there is still the extreamly unlikly chance of an in-flight aircraft getting hit Unnecessary risks created by uncontrolled rocket reentries | Nature Astronomy

POST 2: EASA Safety Information Bulletin Operations SIB No.: 2022-07 Issued: 28 July 2022, Subject: Re-Entry into Earth’s Atmosphere of Space Debris of Rocket Long March 5B (CZ-5B). This SIB is issued to raise awareness on the expected re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere of the large space object.

[1] https://nypost.com/2019/07/03/man-nearly-killed-by-frozen-body-that-fell-from-plane-is-too-traumatized-to-go-home/

[2] http://concordesst.com/accident/englishreport/12.html

[3] https://www.caa.co.uk/Our-work/Make-a-report-or-complaint/Ice-falls/

[4] https://metro.co.uk/2017/02/16/10kg-block-of-ice-falls-from-plane-and-smashes-through-mans-garage-roof-6453658/

[5] https://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/national-ice-block-falls-aircraft-and-smashes-familys-garden-1078494