Passengers on an Austrian Airlines holiday plane experienced a horror flight on Sunday afternoon on the way from Palma de Mallorca to Vienna. The Airbus A320 with the registration OE-LBM of the Lufthansa subsidiary got caught in a thunderstorm supercell over the small town of Hartberg while approaching Vienna-Schwechat Airport and encountered a hailstorm.

The hailstones shattered the cockpit’s outer windows, forcing the pilots to fly almost blind. The fiberglass cover over the weather radar in the nose of the aircraft was also completely shattered and torn off, and the radar antenna was destroyed.

Despite the severe damage to the Airbus, the plane was able to land safely. There was no loss of pressure because the cockpit windows are made of several layers of glass and the inner panes held up. The crew declared an emergency, but was able to continue the approach and landed shortly before 6 p.m., only a few minutes late.

Such a blind landing is entirely feasible thanks to modern instrument landing systems of the so-called Category III (ILS Cat IIIb) using radio localizers. The aircraft systems use, among other things, a radar altimeter, which enables landing via autopilot.

The airline told Austrian media that the crew was unable to detect the storm cell on the aircraft’s weather radar. The plane was badly damaged, with the cockpit and engine mount panels affected. The jet in question will likely be out of action for at least a few days, and the damage will be in the high six-figure range.

During a similar hailstorm last year on a Delta flight from Milan to New York, the engines themselves were also damaged. It is still unclear why the plane was flown into the storm this time. Normally, storm cells are clearly visible on the weather radar of a commercial aircraft.

Air traffic control also uses weather radar to guide aircraft around such cells. Finally, airline traffic control also generally tries to support pilots with weather information when planning their flights before departure.

Meteorologist Jörg Kachelmann sharply criticized the airline’s statement on the short message service X that the storm had not been known: “That is certainly complete nonsense, the AUA control center should have intervened beforehand anyway.”

Other experts also commented on X that the storm was clearly visible on the weather radar from 4:30 p.m. and that a hail warning was online from 5:10 p.m. There would therefore have been enough time to take evasive action. Kachelmann indirectly described the airline’s statements to Austrian television ORF as lies.