A routine Delta Air Lines flight from West Palm Beach in Florida to LaGuardia Airport in New York faces a federal investigation after it was forced to land at nearby JFK International Airport with a crushed nose cone.
The flight, 1076 with 43 passengers aboard, landed safely at about 6:35pm on Monday despite a massive indentation in the nose.
A Delta spokesman said it was initially thought that a bird collided with the Airbus 319. The airline confirmed damage to the nose cone but did not release images Tuesday.
A photo was posted to social media by ABC News transportation correspondent Gio Benitez and a local New York TV news station.
Delta flight to LGA diverted to JFK after it was hit by hail tonight. Wow pic.twitter.com/V4qBzUA4kr— Bill Ritter (@billritter7) July 7, 2020
Delta backpeddled the bird theory on Tuesday, saying the nose cone was damaged by hail.
The flight was diverted "out of an abundance of caution following a mechanical issue" said spokeswoman Maria Moraitakis. "The flight landed safely and without incident."
There were violent thunderstorms in northern New Jersey and New York near the airports late Monday afternoon and into early evening that triggered warnings from the Upton, New York office of the US National Weather Service.
John Murray, lead meteorologist for the NWS in Upton, said one warning issued for northern New Jersey through to Queens predicted ping pong ball-size hail and 100 km/h wind gusts.
Hailstones as big as 4.4 cm in diameter were reported in Bergen County, New Jersey., which is northwest of the airports.
"It's just hard to pinpoint the entire extent of the hail because we are relying on spotters and photographs," Murray said.
The Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the incident, said spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen. Bergen said the flight was diverted after it reported problems with its navigation equipment.
If hail is responsible for the damage, it won't be the first time an Airbus 319 aircraft experienced severe damage after flying through a dangerous thunderstorm complex.
The Washington Post reported in 2018 that an American Airlines jet flew through a storm where hail cracked the plane's windshield and mangled its nosecone.
No injuries were reported but The Post wrote that "eyewitnesses reported multiple sick passengers because of severe turbulence."