It's typically the stuff of urban legend, yet one homeowner in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, now knows it to be true: ice can fall from airplanes and crash through one’s roof — in this case, to the tune of nearly £12,000 — according to a story that first appeared in the Independent newspaper.
Earlier this month, Dr. Carla George was on a work call at home when she heard a massive bang. At first, the 45-year-old said she thought some boxes may have fallen from her attic. But when she investigated, the Ph.D. criminology field researcher realized she could see the sky — through her ceiling — and a large shards of 'ice' on the floor.
Hear Dr. Carla George describe what it was like to discover a gaping hole in her roof.
The 45-year-old called the local fire department, and a firefighter who arrived on the scene told her it was likely caused by ice falling from a plane on its way into Heathrow Airport. George says the repair, covered by insurance, was quoted at more than $14,500 to repair.
“I was working in my office room, and I heard a loud bang,” she said. “It’s used as a storage room, and I thought it was boxes, but I saw the door open and the ceiling completely apart. I went up to the attic and saw ice everywhere; I was confused — where it came from— like something from a movie.”
Despite being told that the most probable cause of the damage was falling debris from a plane, she said she didn’t hear anything that day, leading her to think that it may have been the case.
“I was in shock,” George said. “My neighbor rang the doorbell and said, ‘Do you know there’s a hole in the roof? … It was so unusual; I thought it was some sort of explosion when I got up there.”
According to Heathrow Airport flight-path records, Oxfordshire, located about 57 miles northwest of London, resides within the airport’s take-off and approach patterns.
“We do have planes flying over, but I didn’t hear any that day, and neither did my neighbor, so that was really surprising,” she added. “My neighbor said that he used to work on planes, and a suitcase once fell out.”
Firefighters confirmed with the Independent that they were called to the home and said the hole is believed to have been caused by a large lump of ice that fell from the sky. The U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority said 25 ‘ice fall’ incidents are reported yearly out of 2.5 million flights.
While ice falls from aircraft are rare, ice can form on the outside of an aircraft when cruising at high altitudes; as a plane descends into warmer air, these chunks may break away and fall to the ground. Despite popular beliefs, modern aircraft do not eject toilet waste while airborne.
Captain John Hutchinson, a retired Concorde pilot and aviation expert, said it was quite possible the damage to George’s roof was caused by an ice fall.
“It’s not the first time it’s happened, that’s for sure,” Hutchinson said. “As to why the ice falls, well, you don’t flush toilets overboard, so to speak, so [the ice] won’t be from a ‘loo,’” as the Brits call a ‘toilet.’
Waste collection happens when the aircraft lands at an airport and is disposed of responsibly.
However, there have been reported incidents where the hose valve that is used to empty the aircraft lavatories has been faulty and leaked fluid, which has frozen at altitude. This rare occurrence usually results in discolored ice and is commonly referred to as “blue ice.”
“The most likely scenario [was] water in the undercarriage bay when the aircraft took off, which formed into ice and would stay as a block of ice whilst cruising at 35,000 feet,” Hutchinson said. “And, as the airplane came into land at 3,000 or 4,000 feet, the undercarriage would be selected down, and [the ice] would fall out; that would be one solution.”
Although temporarily covered with a tarpaulin sheet, the roof will need a complete repair.
“The roofers put in a temporary fix the next day, and we are waiting for surveyors to assess the damage and see what can be done for the restoration work,” George said. “And at least it didn’t hit any other rooms, and there were no injuries — just me being shocked and trying to process the whole thing!”