Panic on airliner pierced by hailstones hailstones

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The Independent Online

Passengers were thrown from their seats when a flight from Cyprus to Manchester flew into a hail and lightning storm. The force of the hailstones caused the nose-cone of the aircraft to cave in.

Some of the 221 people on board the flight from Larnaca to Manchester described how oxygen masks fell from the roof of the aircraft when the pilot was forced to descend rapidly while flying over Germany at about 6pm on Monday. A spokeswoman for the airline, BMI, said yesterday that the exterior window of the cockpit was smashed and that there were dents to the fuselage. But she said that "operationally" the aircraft was not harmed.

One passenger, Pat Mallon, 56, said: "We suddenly started to dip like a rollercoaster and were lifted from our seats.

"As I looked to the left there was a man on the floor sliding towards the cockpit. As I looked to the right there were several elderly people on the floor. It was just an extremely terrifying experience for a few minutes. I really thought we were going down."

Bruce Johnstone, 47, a journalist from New Zealand, said: "If I had not been strapped in I would have bounced off the ceiling. People were thrown out of their seats. Some people were in the aisles on the floor. I was hanging on for dear life. We had hit hail, blocks of ice."

Both Mr Johnstone and Ms Mallon praised the crew.

Mr Johnstone said: "The pilot said it was the worst thing he had flown into in 20 years, but he said, 'Don't let that put you off flying'."

The spokeswoman for BMI said: "The aircraft was travelling at 34,000 feet, it went through the hailstorm and as a safety measure the pilot did a controlled descent to 23,000 feet. The captain had said to the passengers, 'We're approaching bad weather' and the seatbelt signs were on and passengers were checked."

None of the 213 passengers or eight crew was hurt.