Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lightning Enlightenment

The NTSB wants the FAA to provide real-time lightning data

Boeing 757
On August 14, 2011, US Airways flight 1209, a Boeing 757 en route from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Philipsburg, St. Maarten, was struck by lightning at approximately 16,000 feet. The crew reported smoke in the cockpit, declared an emergency, and diverted to Baltimore, Maryland, where the airplane landed without further incident. At the time of the incident, the flight was under control of the Washington ARTCC. When the pilot first contacted the center, the controller advised of moderate rain and turbulence along the airplane's route. About three minutes later, the pilot reported that the airplane had sustained a lightning strike and requested to return to Philadelphia "with priority," later changing the destination to Baltimore. The pilot added that the airspace the flight had just traversed contained "…moderate to possible severe…" turbulence, with multiple cloud-to-cloud lightning strokes.

Embraer 145
On January 24, 2012, the flight crew of American Eagle flight 3376 en route from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, to Madison, Wis., declared an emergency after a lightning strike at about 17,500 feet near Farmersville, Texas. The crew immediately requested to divert to Little Rock, Ark., where the airplane landed without further incident. Weather radar data recorded along the airplane's flight path showed convective activity in the immediate region and significant lightning along the aircraft's flight path for at least 15 minutes before the emergency declaration. The controllers involved in the incident told investigators that the ability to depict lightning data on ATC displays would be useful in helping pilots avoid areas of hazardous weather.

Although not referenced in the NTSB's Safety Recommendation, these general aviation items from the NTSB's files are noteworthy.

Cessna T210N
On January 30, 2005, a Cessna T210N was struck by lightning near Glendale, Ariz., while on approach to the Scottsdale, Ariz., airport. Although the commercial pilot and three passengers weren't injured, the airplane was substantially damaged. The flight originated at Carlsbad, Calif. The airplane was in instrument conditions on an IFR flight plan.

The pilot was given radar vectors and told to expect a visual approach to Scottsdale. The flight proceeded northbound, and entered intermittent IMC a few miles north of Luke Air Force Base. The pilot stated that the clouds were dark and contained precipitation, but there was no significant turbulence. The pilot saw lightning to the east and reported it to ATC. Shortly thereafter, ATC instructed the pilot to turn to a magnetic heading of 040 degrees, and descend in preparation for a visual approach to Scottsdale.

The pilot said that shortly after turning northeast, an airplane on the same frequency experienced a stuck mic, and the pilot was blocked from radio contact with the controller to whom he had been talking. The flight was in IMC at the time, and the pilot called controllers stationed at Luke Air Force Base and Scottsdale tower for additional approach instructions. The pilot stated that the controllers were unclear as to what they would be capable of providing. As the airplane got closer to Scottsdale airport, its propeller was struck by lightning. The lighting traveled through the airplane's structure to the left wing, fragmenting the rib structure and separating part of the left wing tip. The pilot was able to communicate with ATC on a backup communication radio and declare an emergency. The flight diverted to Glendale Airport and landed without further incident.

On August 14, 2000, a twin-engine Sabreliner jet crashed in woods about three nm northeast of the Gogebic Iron-County Airport (IWD), Ironwood, Mich.. The airplane was at Flight Level 318 about seven nm north of Ashland, Wis., when the ATP-rated captain radioed, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, eight five delta whiskey lost both engines." A controller replied, "...the Ashland, Wis., airport is aaahh, one o'clock, one thirty and about ten miles." The captain radioed, "Okay, request a vector, we got hit by lightning."

ATC heard the captain declare, "We've lost navibility up here, so we're relying on your vectors." They were in solid IMC. The controller asked if they wanted emergency equipment standing by. The pilot replied, "Absolutely, affirmative, give us vectors down, cause we don't have any navibility at all. We've lost it all." The aircraft's radios would soon quit transmitting, and the transponder would be lost from radar.

The cockpit voice recorder recorded the captain saying, "Okay, we're done... we got nothin'." The copilot said, "We're losing electrical." The captain said, "Okay, okay, we're gonna dead-stick it here," followed by, "I'll take an airport. I'll take a freeway. We got the gear down, three green." The copilot said, "Got a good descent, get below before we lose our gyros." The captain said, "There's the ground. Suggest a left turn." The CVR recorded one of the pilots saying, "There you go. One seventy on the speed. You got it?" One of the pilots said, "Left turn, left turn, standard left turn." The CVR recorded one of them saying, "...over there, left turn 90 degrees. Left turn." Also recorded were, "Is that a clearing? Are you sure?" and, "Seat belts on? Put your seatbelt on," and, "I have mine on." No further voices were recorded. The two pilots were killed and the two passengers received serious injuries.


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