8 Jul 2011

Air Force plane damaged by lightning strike

6:41 pm on 8 July 2011

An investigation is underway following an emergency landing of a Royal New Zealand Air Force plane after it was damaged by a lightning strike.

Eighteen passengers, including a baby, and eight crew were on board the Boeing 757 when it left Auckland's Whenuapai airbase about 9am on Friday.

The plane was transferring personnel to Wellington but turned back as a precautionary measure and landed safely at the base at 9.40am.

Flight Steward Sergeant Karen Tatana was in the rear of the plane when a lightning bolt hit just below the cockpit. She heard a loud bang and saw a bright flash of light down the right hand side of the aircraft.

The pilot, Captain Flight Lieutenant Dave Gardiner, says the stormy conditions were fine for flying.

The plane has been grounded for maintenance checks after damage was discovered underneath the cockpit.

The Civil Aviation Authority says on average, about 32 lightning strikes hit planes each year during the past decade.

The highest recorded figure was 53 lightning strikes hitting aircraft in 2008. The statistics do not cover strikes against military planes.