Lightning storm downs airliner

In Americas, Floods & Storms, News Headlines

A woman has died and 114 passengers were injured when a plane crashed after being struck by lightning in the Caribbean.

The Airline Aires plane broke into three on impact when it went down short of the runway on San Andres island.

The island’s governor Pedro Gallardo said it was a “miracle” that only one person was killed.

Colonel Gustavo Barrero, of the Colombia Air Force, said the Boeing 737 was travelling from Bogota with 121 passengers and six crew on board when it landed in the middle of an “intense electrical storm”.

He said the injured were taken to local hospitals on the island, which lies about 120 miles east of the Nicaraguan coast.

“The captain of the airliner (pilot) told us it was struck by lighting.

“We are inspecting the remains of the plane to try to establish what the damages were and what caused the accident,” said Donald Tascon, deputy director of Colombia’s aeronautics authority.

The island’s airport was closed as an investigation was launched.

The dead passenger was named locally as Amar Fernandez de Barretos, 68.

Paramedics told El Tiempo newspaper she suffered a heart attack just after the crash and died on her way to the hospital.

Around 100 passengers were taken to Amor de Patria Hospital on the island.

Dr Robert Sanchez said he was amazed only only four of them suffered major injuries in the crash landing.

“It’s incredible. For the dimension (of the accident), there should be more,” he added.

A spokesman for Airline Aires said the passengers on board included eight US citizens and four Brazilians.

Their identities have not been released.

Passenger jets are hit by lightning every 1,000 hours in flight – on average twice a year, according to research by the French national office for aerospace study and research (Onera).

But airline expert Francois Grangier said lightning strikes rarely result in crashes.

“In my career as a pilot I often experienced lightning as did all of my colleagues,” he said.

“It’s something which is often impressive, it makes a lot of noise in the aircraft and usually electrical power fails.

“But it’s just as if it happens at home: the fuses jump, you put them back and everything works.”

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