Questions after Delta flight caught in damaging storm

Delta Flight 1889

Jeffrey W. Johnson

Large hailstones slammed into the windshield of a Delta flight heading from Boston to Salt Lake City. Lightning also struck the plane before it made an emergency landing in Denver Friday night.

It is the third time this summer an airliner has been damaged in a hailstorm, and now there are questions about why the pilots couldn't see the storms coming, but passengers could on their wireless devices, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave.

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There were tense moments in the cockpit as Delta Flight 1889 crossed the Nebraska-Colorado border and flew right into a weather cell.

Passengers said lightning bolts lit up their windows and one hit the engine. They also said hail the size of baseballs pelted the aircraft.

"Our windshield is pretty severely damaged," the pilot told air traffic control.

While strong winds rolled the airplane 40 degrees, the pilots were virtually flying blind.

"This is Delta 1889. Denver, you need to understand we have no weather radar. That is out too," the pilot said.

"I will keep you steady for five minutes and slowly bend you in," air traffic control responded.

One passenger said the hail was coming down so hard the sky looked like a snow cone maker. After the emergency landing in Denver, passengers couldn't miss the damage to the Airbus A320.

"We went around the corner from the window, we could see the shattered windshield. We could see kind of a hole over the engine where lightning had struck. We could see the nose of the plane was missing. It was really intense," passenger Rob Wessman said.

Delta Flight 1889 Jeffrey W. Johnson

In June, a Delta flight to Seoul, Korea, hit a hail storm, and in July, a brand new American Airlines 787 departing Beijing had to turn back after being pounded by hail.

"The irony is that pilots flying small planes or sometimes passengers in the cabin with a personal electronic device have the ability to see weather information that the airline pilots flying their flight don't," CBS News aviation and safety expert Sully Sullenberger said.

He said unlike passengers, pilots don't have access to the Internet in the cockpit, and their radar systems sometimes aren't able to detect weather patterns like hail storms.

"While it's important to keep us cyber safe, there's got to be a way that we can get better weather info in our airliners as soon as possible," Sullenberger said.