RALEIGH, N.C. -- A 'projectile' pierced the belly of a United Airlines jetliner approaching Raleigh-Durham Airport, wounding one passenger, authorities said.
The Boeing 737 was at an altitude of 300 to 400 feet and less than a minute from landing when it was struck at about 5:25 p.m. EST, airport director John Brantley said.
'Some projectile penetrated the aircraft a short distance after the wing and struck a passenger,' he said. It 'could have been a bullet slug or anything else.'
The projectile 'penetrated through the gentleman's leg and struck the jaw area of his face,' Brantley said. 'He was removed from the aircraft ... he was conversing here before he left for the hospital.'
United Airlines officials identified the victim as Barry Rollins, 30, of New York, one of 16 passengers and five crewmembers on Flight 1502, a 109-passenger Boeing 737 bound from Wilmington, N.C. He was taken to Rex Hospital in Raleigh.
'He's stable, alert, and well oriented,' said Kay Lund, United Airlines' director of corporate communications in Chicago. 'It's definitely not a life-threatening situation.'
The initial investigation was hampered because 'the pilot did not immediately report the incident,' Brentley said.
'If he had contacted the tower the instant it occurred we could work back and figure mathematically where the shot was fired,' said Brantley. 'The plane may have been hit five or six miles out of the airport, possibly over Morrisville.
'The plane did not sustain rapid decompression and apparently the pilot did not know he had a problem until he was on the ground,' Brantley said.
He said the object made a hole about the size of a quarter in the underside of the plane and a 'considerably larger' hole in the interior.
'There's not any search at the present time for anyone in this incident,' Brantley said. 'We basically have to at this point in time assume it was an accident.
'The local police met the aircraft on arrival and the FBI is being brought in to investigate,' she said.
Don Paschall, chief of police at Raleigh-Durham Airport, said officers had not determined the projectile was a bullet.
'It has not been confirmed at this point in time,' he said. 'The officer and an FBI agent at the hospital are waiting to get any idea what it was.'
Paschall said, however, 'it appears that it (projectile) did come from the ground.'
The plane -- with stops scheduled at Washington's Dulles Airport and in Hartford, Conn., was impounded at the airport and the passengers were booked on other flights, Lund said.
'I've been with United 15 years and I've never seen anything like this,' she said.
But Brantley said such an occurrence is not unprecedented at Raleigh-Durham Airport.
'About three years ago around this time of year an aircraft was struck by pellets,' Brantley said. 'Some kids out in the woods were hunting for animals and didn't find any and decided to take a shot at a plane.'
In another incident involving a United Airlines plane Wednesday, a flight from Washington to Los Angeles with 192 passengers was diverted to Cleveland after a reported bomb threat.
A United spokesman said a passenger apparently told flight attendants that her estranged husband told her he hoped a bomb was on board. No bomb was found.