British Airways Pilot Describes Being Struck By Lightning On Approach To London Heathrow

The pilot of British Airways flight 501 from Lisbon to London Heathrow reports being struck by lightning while on approach to the airport on Sunday.

He describes lightning having “entered [the aircraft] just underneath the flight deck” and says that it left via the aircraft’s tail. “We saw it shoot through the cabin” – something he’d only heard about in stories and never seen before “in real life.”

The flight itself was unaffected, and the pilot made an announcement “as it made quite a racket” and was loud “enough to be noticed.”

The aircraft, which reportedly wasn’t the only one struck by lightning flying into London today, is expected to remain on the ground for about 18 hours, following a routine lightning strike inspection, including testing the plane’s electronic systems as well as physically inspecting for damage.

This 22-year old Airbus A320 has had fumes in the cockpit, a cabin pressurization issue and has even been struck by lightning before.

On average every commercial plane is believed to be struck by lightning at least once a year, however it’s been over 40 years since a crash has been attributed to a lightning strike. The fuselage of a plane will generally conduct electricity and allow it to transmit from the strike and generally out the tail. However Boeing actually reduced lightning protection in the wings of 787s in order to reduce costs and speed deliveries. They maintain that safety has not been compromised.

Lightning strikes can still cause damage. An Air Canada Boeing 777 was struck by lightning as it departed Vancouver and also continued to London’s Heathrow airport.

Here’s video from an Australian domestic Boeing 787 flight’s lightning strike.

And photos from a past American Airlines Boeing 787 lightning strike:

And here’s lightning damage to an American Airlines plane last year:

Aviation technology continues to soar beyond the limits of the sky – but nature’s power remains formidable.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My mom was on a flight from BOS to LHR in the late 1970s when the BA aircraft was struck by lightning sometime after passing Iceland. A good portion of the instrument panel went out. The pilots made it to Ireland and landed the plane; they didn’t even want to go as far as LHR. My (naturally) terrified mom called us from Ireland to tell us the plane had been grounded and she didn’t know when she would be back in the sky. I remember this vividly because that was back in the day when overseas calls cost a small fortune and BA paid for all the pax to make an expensive ‘phone call home.

  2. I can’t be specific since I work on parts for both Boeing and Airbus, But I do know some composite exterior parts have lightning strike as the first ply in the composite layup, And some have metal grounding grommets exactly for this reason.

  3. The plane I was on was struck by lightning – twice – just after takeoff from Istanbul en route to Manchester.

    The second hit sent a huge white beam of light though the cabin. Was amazing and slighly terrifying in equal measures.

    We turned round and swapped planes.

  4. Mine was on a DL MD-90, :30 minutes out from PHX during out decent. Just a flash, but then things got interesting as we lost radar (it stuck the nose cone) and our transponder. We circled in the clouds while the cleared the airspace and radio’ed us in. We were :20 minutes early after that. . .LOL

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