Lonely Planet Writer

Revealed: scary toll of mid-flight near misses due to lightning strikes

A new report by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reveals that 35 potential disasters have been averted after aircraft were struck by lightning in Scottish skies over the past five years.

Pilot skill has averted several plane disasters from lightning strikes in Scottish skies
Pilot skill has averted several plane disasters from lightning strikes in Scottish skies Image by Andreas Øverland / CC BY 2.0

The latest data said that tragedy had been avoided due to a combination of pilot skill and the input of air traffic controllers.

The Sunday Express reported that the terrifying series of hits saw sparks flying, planes filling up with smoke and holes bored in the fuselage from the lightning with several incidents of communications failure after these strikes.

Dobrolet Airlines goes out of business. Image by fsse8info / CC BY-SA 2.0
Modern planes withstand the impact of lightning strikes better than used to be the case. Image by fsse8info / CC BY-SA 2.0

Accident investigators notes that in December alone last year, there were seven serious incidents including one near missing on 19 December  when a lightning bolt struck the inside of a cabin as a plane without passengers was getting ready to land.

The report also highlighted a Loganair flight between Aberdeen and Shetland four days earlier where the craft nosedived almost 3,000ft after being struck by lightning. Although the autopilot went into meltdown, the captain was able to regain control as the propeller craft had lowered to just 1,100ft over the North Sea.

Videographer captures amazing footage of lightning striking a bridge in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Image by John Fowler / CC BY 2.0
Lightninig strikes mid air are terrifying. Image by John Fowler / CC BY 2.0

Fortunately modern aircraft are designed to withdstand lightning strikes, but there have been several big crashes back the years.

Eighty one people died in 1963 when a Pan Am Boeing 707 crashed in the USA after being hit by lightning while 27 years ago in Germany, 21 people died after a Swearingen Metro aircraft lost a wing in a lightning strike.