- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

An Alexandria woman said she saw a "flare or rocket" ascending toward a US Airways flight landing at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport last month, similar to a report from a Southwest Airlines pilot landing at Baltimore-Washington International Airport Sunday.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating a report by the pilot of Southwest Flight 454 that he saw what looked like a model rocket pass on the left side of his aircraft Sunday evening.
The FAA says it has no reports of the rocket sighting by the Alexandria resident, Joyce Mucci.
The trade association public relations coordinator said she observed the incident while driving home from work Jan. 20 at sunset near Reagan Airport.
"It was like a rocket, kind of a reddish thing that came up from the river bank," Mrs. Mucci said. "It was aimed toward the back of the jet. Maybe the pilot didn't see it."
Mrs. Mucci said she doubted it was a model rocket.
"It did not look like any model rocket I've ever seen," she said. Her son used to play with model rockets when he was a child.
"When he was a kid, we used to make model rockets, and they don't look like that. It was right toward the back of the jet, right behind the engine. It went at an angle like it was aimed at the jet."
She added, however, that the object did not get close enough that it could have brought down the airplane.
"It may be nothing, but it's important for somebody to follow up on this," Mrs. Mucci said.
She said the "flare or rocket" rose from a spot down the slope of the Potomac River beyond the jogging trail next to Reagan Airport, halfway between Memorial Bridge and the airport.
She said she called a Federal Aviation Administration telephone number the next day. She left a message on voice mail but received no reply.
After news accounts of the incident at BWI Sunday, Mrs. Mucci called the FBI yesterday.
"The FBI guy said, 'Hold on a minute,'" Mrs. Mucci said. "Then a woman in the background said, 'I don't want to talk to another psychic.' Then I was put through to somebody's voice mail and I didn't leave a message."
FAA Eastern Region spokesman Jim Peters said he had no information on Mrs. Mucci's January report.
"We have no record of receiving a call from Mrs. Mucci on or about that day," Mr. Peters said.
He also said he had "no idea" of how often other people say they have seen rockets near airplanes.
FBI spokesman Chris Murray said, "Our office is unaware of that incident."
Southwest Flight 454 was on approach 12 to 14 miles southeast of BWI at 3,000 feet at 7:10 p.m. Sunday when the pilot said he saw the rocket. The FAA acknowledged the incident at BWI publicly for the first time Tuesday. Mr. Peters said yesterday the agency was looking into it.
Fraser Jones, spokesman for the national office of the FAA, said reports of rockets flying toward airplanes are rare.
"We don't tally those that I'm aware of," Mr. Jones said. "I have not heard of reports of that kind before."
Local airport authorities also said they are unaware of a "flare or rocket" near Reagan Aiirport in January.
"I haven't heard anything about that," said Tom Sullivan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages Reagan and Washington Dulles International airports. "If it was reported by our tower, our police would have been alerted."
Mrs. Mucci's report was the first time he heard of someone seeing a projectile apparently fired at a commercial airplane in the Washington area. Occasionally, passers-by mistakenly report "near misses but not rockets," Mr. Sullivan said.
The only similar report of a rocket fired at a commercial airplane in the United States followed the explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of New York on July 17, 1996.
The National Transportation Safety Board explained the witness' reports by saying that after the front part of the plane broke off during an electrical fire and fuel-tank explosion, the wings and rear part of the fuselage continued climbing at a sharp angle, creating an upward streak of light.
All 230 persons on board were killed.


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