- Aeroflot Flight SU1492 burst into flames while making an emergency landing at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow on Sunday, killing 41 of the 78 passengers and crew aboard.
- One of the jet’s pilots told Russian media that the emergency landing was triggered by a malfunction in the plane’s communications system brought on by lightning, AFP reported.
- Lightning strikes on aircraft are a daily occurrence around the world.
- Modern commercial airliners are designed to withstand lightning strikes.
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Aeroflot Flight SU1492 burst into flames while making an emergency landing at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow on Sunday. Of the 78 passengers and crew on board the Russian-made Sukhoi SuperJet 100, 41 perished.
The jet’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders have been recovered from the wreckage. An investigation led by Russia’s Transport Minister is underway. The exact cause of the fire that engulfed airliner has not been determined.
One of the jet’s pilots, Denis Yevdokimov, told Russian media that the emergency landing was triggered by a malfunction in the plane’s communications system brought on by lightning, AFP reported. But the pilot didn’t clarify whether the aircraft was actually struck by lightning.
If the jet in fact had been struck by lightning, it’s unclear how much damage was done beyond the communications system. Video of the emergency landing does not appear to show any smoke or flames until the jet reaches the airport, where it bounced violently on the runway.
Flight SU1492 has brought the threat of lightning strikes to the forefront of the traveling public’s consciousness.
“This is not something you hear very often, if ever,” Teal Group aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia said, referring to the pilot’s report that lightning caused a malfunction.
Lightning strikes on aircraft are a daily occurrence around the world.
Aboulafia said that when lightning strikes an airliner, the electricity passes through the plane’s aluminum outer skin. In the process, the fuselage acts as a Faraday cage, protecting the occupants from the jolt of electricity.
In addition, the internal electronics on modern commercial aircraft are designed to withstand the electric surge of a strike.
An infamous incident of a commercial airliner being brought down by lightning occurred on December 8, 1963, when a lightning strike ignited the fuel tank in the left wing of Pan Am Flight 214. The resulting explosion caused a portion of the wing to break off midflight.
That crash killed all 81 passengers and crew on board the Boeing 707. Pan Am 214 is also the last crash of an airliner in the US in which lightning was cited as a direct cause.