By ALLEN REED, Houston Chronicle, June 3, 2009
The FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department met Tuesday to compare notes on an unidentified flying object reported late last week by an ExpressJet Airlines pilot.
The pilot reported a “missile or rocket” flying near his airplane Friday at 8:09 p.m., shortly after takeoff from Bush Intercontinental Airport, according to sheriff’s officials.
“The FAA then contacted the Liberty County department dispatcher and reported their pilot reported an object flying straight at his aircraft and passed 100 feet under it,” said Ken DeFoor, chief deputy for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department.
FBI spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap said the agency was aware of the sighting.
“While we have no information to indicate there was a criminal act we certainly do not rule anything out and certainly would not want to speculate on what it may or may not have been,” she said.
The flight was over the southern edge of Liberty County flying at 13,000 feet when the incident occurred, officials said. ExpressJet flies regional routes for Continental Airlines as Continental Express.
“We haven’t found anything yet — either something on the ground where it launched or on the ground where it came down,” said Liberty County Sheriff’s Cpl. Hugh Bishop.
DeFoor said the agencies consolidated their notes and information at the meeting.
“The FAA is in the process of debriefing the pilot today (Tuesday),” he said. “We are going to try and come up with a more definite track of this object and its path. We are trying to find out where it came from, where it went, and who may be responsible for it.”
The Continental Express jet was on a commercial flight to Greenville, S.C.
“No people were injured and no evasive action on part of the airplane was taken,” DeFoor said.
DeFoor said he was aware of local hobbyists who fire rockets but did not know if any were in the area at the time.
“We're checking with club owners and presidents,” he said. “If we can get a correct track of what this object was there is no need to check with hobby fields.”
DeFoor said if the object was a rocket, it was fired illegally.
“They have to have permits to use the airspace,” he said.
In May 2008, a Continental Airlines pilot reported a similar incident.
“It was the same situation, almost identical,” DeFoor said. “The FBI are pulling their records on that one. It was roughly in the same area almost a year ago.”
The Boeing 737, en route to Cleveland, Ohio, with 148 passengers, was not damaged.
“We looked into that, along with the FAA and some local law enforcement,” Dunlap said. “To my knowledge, it was never determined what may of been observed during that incident.”
The FAA referred all questions about Friday’s incident to the Liberty County Sheriffs Department.