Rocket Flying Near Plane Draws Federal Investigation

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

HOUSTON -- The FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration say they are investigating a report of a possible model rocket with a flaming tail and a trail of smoke flying ahead of a Continental Airlines plane.

The pilot reported the incident to air traffic controllers shortly after takeoff from George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston Sunday morning. The flight continued without incident to Cleveland.

Although the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is involved in the investigation, officials say they believe the object was a model rocket.

The FAA says it does not yet know how high the rocket flew or how close it came to the plane, Herwig said.

Continental Airlines spokeswoman Kelly Cripe declined to discuss what crew members had seen aboard the Boeing 737, which carried 148 passengers. She says the plane did not change course and was not damaged.

Robert Morehead, an engineer and president of the Amateur Spaceflight Association in Houston, said model rockets routinely can reach as high as 40,000 feet. He said model rocket enthusiasts are supposed to notify the FAA if a rocket is entering controlled airspace.

Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman in Washington D.C., told the Houston Chronicle that model rockets have crossed paths with planes before but have never struck them. She also said that the Memorial Day holiday weekend was a good time for a launch.

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