Shell-shocked Ron Tigg came within five metres of death when frozen debris bigger than a football crashed into his house.

The 70-year-old was in the back garden of his home when the missile fell from a passing plane into his roof before ripping through the loft. He and his terrified wife Jean, who was in the kitchen of the home, escaped the missile by a few feet.

Mr Tigg, of Marlborough Drive, Burgess Hill, is now demanding airline bosses explain why the potentially deadly missile fell from a plane into a residential area of Sussex. He said he was lucky to be alive following the incident, adding: "I was out in the back garden when I heard a huge bang and I thought someone had thrown a brick at the house.

"I went round to the front and found waste from a plane had smashed four roof tiles, each about a foot square, and some had gone through into the loft. A lot of it broke into small pieces, but there was still a big lump left."

Mr Tigg added: "If anybody had been under that block it would have killed them. I was only about four or five yards away and my wife, who was in the kitchen, was really frightened."

His wife, Jean, told the Argus: "I just heard this noise and thought the house was coming in. I suppose it was rather fortunate in some ways because my husband was dithering over whether to get the car out of the garage so he could take the dogs over the common. If he'd done that, it might have hit him because some of it bounced off the roof into the drive."

Mrs Tigg added: "In a million years, I wouldn't have expected that. It shouldn't happen. I thought they were supposed to empty out the planes over the sea, not over a residential area like this."

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said: "All waste from an aircraft is kept within the aircraft and only emptied on the ground. It's not like a train where you are not allowed to flush the toilet at stations. It's difficult to know, but there may have been a fault with a valve and a very slight leak, allowing the leakage to freeze. There are about 20 of these a year in the UK, but no-one has ever been injured by falling ice."

A spokeswoman for Gatwick Airport said: "These instances are very hard to trace and it may not have come from a Gatwick Aircraft." There have been a series of incidents with objects falling from aeroplanes in Sussex.

Farmer Paul Bailey was stunned when a chunk of metal fell from a Virgin Atlantic jet into a field at Charlwood, near Crawley, in 1996. An aluminium cowling, weighing half a hundredweight, plunged into the field after falling from a Boeing 747.

A huge block of ice fell from a plane on to a grandmother's roof in January 1997. Stella Ellis was playing bridge with friends at her Pulborough home when the ice smashed into her roof. It left a 3ft hole before shattering on her driveway below.

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