Object that hit British Airways plane over London not a drone, says govt

Investigations have shown that the object that hit a British Airways jet on April 17, 2016 was not a drone.
Investigations have shown that the object that hit a British Airways jet on April 17, 2016 was not a drone. PHOTO: EPA

LONDON (AFP) - An object that hit a British Airways (BA) jet as it was coming in to land at London's Heathrow Airport is not believed to have been a drone, as was first thought, the British government said on Thursday (April 28).

The pilot of the Airbus A320 with 132 passengers and five crew on board initially reported that the jet had been hit by a drone on its final descent into Europe's busiest airport on April 17.

But Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told MPs on Thursday that an investigation concluded it "was not a drone incident".

"We made initial inquiries but there was insufficient information on what object was involved for us to take it further," said a spokesman with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).

Police searched a "wide area" under the plane's flight path in Richmond, south-west London, but did not find any evidence of a drone strike.

A BA spokesman said the plane had been examined after landing and was cleared to operate its next flight.

Mr Robert Goodwill, a minister with the transport department, last week revealed that the object may have been a "plastic bag or something".

"The pilot has a lot of other things to concentrate on (when landing) so we're not quite sure what they saw," he said.

The UK Airprox Board, an air safety agency, said last month there were 23 near-misses between drones and aircraft in the six months between April and October last year.

In one incident on Sept 22 last year, a Boeing 777 reported passed close to a drone as it was taking off.

Investigators concluded that the drone was at the same height as the aircraft and within 25 metres of it.

A drone then came within a few metres of an Airbus A319 landing at Heathrow only a few days later on Sept 30.

Under British legislation, drones cannot be flown near aircraft or airports, or at an altitude of over 400 feet (122 metres).