"We don't know for sure what the object was. But we think it might be somebody doing model rocketing," FAA spokesman Roland Herwig told the Houston Chronicle on Monday. "The pilot saw the rocket and some people saw the rocket's trail."
The FAA said it does not yet know how high the rocket flew or how close it came to the plane, Herwig said.
The pilot spotted the object flying at 5,000 feet about 11 miles east of George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Flight 1544 continued its trip from Houston to Cleveland after reporting the object to air traffic controllers. Scott Wilson, a spokesman for the FBI's Cleveland office, said in a story in The Plain Dealer that the plane wasn't in danger and landed safely.
Continental Airlines spokeswoman Kelly Cripe declined to discuss what crew members had seen aboard the Boeing 737, which carried 148 passengers. The plane did not change course and was not damaged, she said.
FBI spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap told the Houston newspaper that the bureau routinely looks into any suspicious activity involving a plane.
"We don't know if it was a rocket or what," Dunlap said. "We will interview everyone and determine the validity of what was seen."
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 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.
"Building rockets is a legitimate hobby, but hobbyists have to let the FAA know what they're doing," Herwig said.