One of the most dangerous weather conditions anyone can encounter beyond tornadoes and hurricanes is hail. According to the National Weather Service, hail causes $1 billion in damages to crops and property each year.

Oh, the “b” was not a mistake: that is a billion, not a million. That is a lot of damage. Of course, you can fully understand why and how in this YouTube video.

(Found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuMX9AM9BrE.)

For the aviators reading this and observing the video, let me ask the question, do you consider such conditions in flight? The frightening aspect of instrument flying without radar is the possibility of flying into a hail shaft by accident.

This is exactly what happened to the crew and passengers of Southern Airways Flight 242. The flight originated in Huntsville, AL on April 4, 1977 destined for Atlanta, GA.

As Captain Bill McKenzie and First Officer Lyman Keele piloted the DC-9 down from altitude, they were trying to pick their way through the areas of lightest weather. Near the VOR at Rome, GA, they ran into extreme rain and hail.

The hail became so intense it knocked out the aircraft’s windshield and destroyed both engines. There was no hope the pilots would be able to restart the engines.

As they came down, McKenzie attempted a forced landing on the highway near New Hope, GA. After touchdown, the airplane ended up careening through a gas station. Of the 85 on board, 63 lost their lives. Nine on the ground also died. Twenty passengers survived, along with both flight attendants. 

For the pilots out there, the message from this event is simple: do not try flying through heavy or dangerous weather without onboard radar—especially if there is a possibility of hail.


© 2011 J. Clark

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1 Response to Hail

  1. littlefokker says:

    As a pilot with a mere 1000 hours, I find myself thinking about the stupid mistakes and risks I have taken in the past. One particular incident occurred on a ferry flight in a beautiful C207 involving this very weather phenomena.

    I’d done a fair bit of single engine IFR so flying through cloud didn’t phase me too much. Not having weather radar, I didn’t know I was about to fly through a pretty nasty cell – one which definitely caused me to reevaluate my decision making as a pilot! I experienced severe turbulence unlike that which I’ve experienced before but luckily made it through alive.

    On the ground at the maintenance facility I found that the paint had been stripped off the leading edges, probably the best outcome imaginable in such severe weather! The boss wasn’t too happy of course…learned my lesson there!

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