New clues about object that came near plane

June 5, 2009 3:45:19 PM PDT
There are new details on a strange object eyewitnesses say came dangerously close to hitting a commuter plane that had just left Houston. Investigators are now zeroing in on what it is. Last Friday, a pilot spotted a rocket-like object coming from the ground in Liberty County toward the airplane. The express jet flight was about 10,000 feet in the air headed from Bush Intercontinental Airport to Greenville, South Carolina.

The pilot reported seeing a something fly within 150 of his plane. Seven days later, investigators believe the object was a large model rocket.

"It's about 5 to 7 feet in length, solid white in color, with delta fins on the tail," said Liberty County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Ken DeFoor. "That takes it out of a missile class and puts it more into a rocket class."

"Some guys get into it, whether it's trains or planes or rockets," said Jeff Mills with M&M Hobby Shop. "It's a hobby."

Mills says most rocket enthusiasts know they need FAA clearance to fly large size rockets, but there are always exceptions.

"Usually it's people who don't know any better," said Mills. "They'll build a rocket from scratch and just fire it, not thinking about it, and not knowing what the rules are."

The sheriff's department now thinks the rocket was launched somewhere in northeast Chambers County and landed near the Chambers and Harris County border. That's the area they'll be searching in the coming days and hoping to find the person who launched a rocket.

"It could have killed a lot of people, and the airplane coming down could have killed people on the ground," said DeFoor. "This is just an extremely dangerous thing for anyone to do, whether it's malicious or whether it's accidental, it just shouldn't be done."

Liberty County authorities are in the process of securing a law enforcement helicopter and hope to fly the area to look for what they believe to be a model rocket.

This is the second problem in the last year involving a model rocket and planes from Bush Intercontinental Airport. Last May, pilots from a Continental plane saw an unidentified flying object shortly after takeoff. The FAA looked into the case and determined that object was a model rocket. The flight continued on to its destination without a problem.

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