I was en route to Holgu??n, Cuba yesterday with a planeload of passengers, in cruise at 17,000 feet, when a giant lightning bolt materialized out of nowhere about 10 feet off the nose and our plane flew right through it. The bolt hit about two feet from my face on my side of the nose.

I had just enough time before it happened to think, “Wow, we’re about to get hit by lightning. Cool!” and my first reaction after it happened was, “Huh. That wasn’t nearly as loud as I was expecting it to be.”

The strike took out both our communications radios and caused a fan somewhere in the avionics stack behind me to shed a fan blade, which made a horrible grinding sound for the next five minutes as the fan blade slowly tore itself apart. Eventually, the noise went away and was replaced by the whine of an un-loaded electric motor.

We were able to re-establish communications with ATC about 10 minutes later using the voice capabilities of our ACARS unit and diverted back to Miami, where we had an uneventful landing. Photos here, thanks to the captain, whose camera phone is far better than mine. (I had meant to take my digital camera along on the flight but forgot it as I was running out the door on my way to work yesterday.)

Two hours later, we had a new plane and finally got the passengers to Holgu??n five hours late. On the way back, we were very nearly struck twice more by lightning, prompting me to look at the captain and wonder aloud, “What sort of trouble are we gonna be in if we bring back a second plane with lightning damage in one day?”

I’m really glad I have two days off now. I also kind of want to go work for the Hurricane Hunters now.

posted by Chris on 29 July 2007 at 1737 in aviation


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