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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Flaming Debris Just Misses Jet

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A Chilean jetliner flying to New Zealand came "uncomfortably close" to being hit by blazing objects hurtling through the atmosphere, New Zealand aviation officials said Thursday.

New Zealand officials initially said Thursday that the Lan Chile Airbus 340 may have narrowly missed being blasted by Russian space debris returning to Earth ahead of schedule, but Russian officials denied that and U.S. officials said it was most likely a close encounter with a disintegrating meteor.

While it is not uncommon for debris to fall into the South Pacific, "it is very uncommon to have a plane in the middle of it," Airways New Zealand spokesman Ken Mitchell said.

Mitchell, whose company handles air traffic control in the region, initially said the flaming objects were likely space junk arriving 12 hours ahead of Russian projections. But he later said that a meteor could not be ruled out.

In Moscow, the Federal Space Agency issued a statement saying that its cargo ship Progress M-58 had fallen back to Earth according to the timetable it had advised aviation officials about previously. It said fragments of Progress did not plunge into the South Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand until about 12 hours after the fiery near-hit with the jet was reported.

About 50 meteoroids enter the Earth's atmosphere every day. By contrast, about 150 pieces of man-made space junk fall back to Earth each year.