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What It Looks Like When a Plane is Struck By Lightning
By Sid Lipsey, Yahoo! News - April 13, 2015
Video via ABC News
It’s the kind of in-flight problem that can give fliers a jolt - and we’re not talking about turbulence. We’re talking about airplanes that get hit by lightning mid-flight. Contrary to what you might believe, it’s a common occurrence on airplanes. But exactly as you might suspect, it’s a frightening experience for passengers.

Passengers on Icelandair Flight 671 became the newest members of the “My-Plane-Got-Hit-By-Lightning” club last week. Their Boeing 757 was struck by lightning shortly after taking off from Reykavik, Iceland.

“At some point pretty soon after we left, we got hit. It wasn’t at the half-way point,” Nathen Maxwell, a member of the band The Bunny Gang, told the Denver Post. He described the sound as “a bang and a pop,” adding, “I thought we’d probably have to go for an emergency landing or turn around, detour or something.”

The plane didn’t make an emergency landing or detour - it continued on to its destination of Denver, Colorado, where passengers got another shock:they found the lightning strike punched a hole through the nose of the plane.

Even more shocking was the face that no one, neither the passengers nor the pilots, knew the lightning had damaged the plane - or that they’d flown more than 3,700 miles on a plane with no nose. It made for an oft-posted photo on Twitter.

An airline spokesman told the Denver Post the pilots had no reason to suspect the lightning had caused any damage as the instruments and the plane’s operations seemed normal. “After the strike there was no signal that the plane was unstable or unsuitable for flight,” said the spokesman.

Like the Icelandair flight, no one was hurt in those incidents and all of the flights continued on as if nothing had ever happened. Lightning strikes are so common for commercial airlines - each plane can count on one or more a year - they’re built to withstand them.

“Passengers in an airliner are protected from lightning as passengers in a car are, by being enclosed in electrically conductive material,” says former airline pilot Tom Bunn, a licensed therapist and founder for SOAR - a program that helps people get over their fear of flying. “That material has traditionally been the plane’s aluminum skin. But with the carbon fiber fuselage of the [Icelandair] Boeing 757, wire mesh embedded into the material does the job.”

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