A Delta Air Lines Airbus A319 with 43 passengers aboard was forced to land short of its destination of LaGuardia after it apparently collided with something big Monday evening. At first, the word on the street was that it was a bird strike, but soon the airline said that it didn’t know. (UPDATE: Delta Air Lines is now saying the encounter was likely caused by hail. So maybe it was a lot of really hard if not so big stuff.)
The crew most likely chose JFK not because it was slightly closer but because it has longer runways, in case that wound up being a factor, which doesn’t seem to have been the case.
Was it really hail? Maybe. There aren’t really that many possibilities. If it was a bird, there’s often some evidence of that fact left, even after a high-speed impact such as this. There’s no visible bird remains in the photograph. Another possibility is that it could’ve been a Mylar balloon, which can do this kind of damage when they’re hit by a high-flying plane.
The other distinct possibility is that it was a drone strike. If so, it would be the most serious such encounter that we know of. While it’s looking doubtful at this point that it was a drone, the jury is still out. The FAA is said to be investigating. We’ll keep you apprised.