Friday, September 20, 2013

Lightening Strikes...again



Remember how I said it was an easy 3 day trip? Yeah about that.


Day 3 started with an 11 AM van. Inbound was on time. The First Officer of the inbound flight is a good friend of mine I Flight Instructed with. Once I saw him I gasped and said ,” Awe I'm really going to have to do a detailed preflight after you landed!” He quickly replied with, “Well if I knew it was you I would have left instructions on how to fly in the cockpit.” Nice!


Easy flight. Once in base we had an hour sit. I grabbed one of the best deals in the airport, a chicken breast sandwich and fries for $4.86 with the employee discount. Normally it takes 10 minutes. The lady in front of me at the "to go" station was ordering while on the phone READING the menu to someone else. Six minutes later she was done. Bleh.


Blocked out on time. Weather moving toward the out station so we had an alternate. Captains leg.


About 100 miles out I pulled up the ATIS. No bueno. Wind and rain. We could see the storm out in front of us. The storm was moving west and we were coming in from the south. The storm was about 20 miles west of the airport.


We decided to head east and beat it in. Our RADAR isn't the showed a good size gap north of the airport. We had the Flight Attendant get the cabin ready early.

SAM_0511 SAM_0510


Center set us free for deviations...with a precaution that we might want to get in from the west. Once on the east side the RADAR showed the complete picture....the gap wasn't really there. We turned toward the airport (for a RADAR image) to see if there was any way of getting through. Nothing....solid wall.


“Tell Center we're going to Milwaukee,” the Captain told me.


“Center we'd like to change our destination to Milwaukee.” I said.


“Turn right heading 090 maintain flight level 200” replied center.


While in the right turn it hit...... a big down draft. I tried to key the mike but my hand slipped off as my body was pushed upwards against the shoulder harness.


Finally got the words out. The next 40 seconds or so were rough. Heavy rain, turbulence....and then a lightening flash.


I've been hit by lightening before. Normally we can tell by an electrical surge in the displays and/or a smell in the air.


“Did we get hit?” I asked.


“I don't think” the Captain replied.


“Descend and maintain 17000 for traffic.” stated Center.


Engines were idled during the low 1000 foot per minute descent. A downdraft pushed us down and the airspeed increased rapidly....enough to almost cause an overspeed.


I communicated to our dispatcher the plan of heading to MKE.


They replied back they would prefer another airport as the weather was due to hit MKE. Fine we went with their plan.


Once in smooth air we made sure the cabin was fine.


The Flight Attendant was warned of the impending weather. Well right before it hit the ride was smooth. A passenger decided to turn on his cell phone. The Flight Attendant stood up to tell him to turn it off....just before the rough stuff started. With a full flight her only option was to duck and cover in the aisle. Thankfully she wasn't injured....I would have simply used the PA to tell the passenger....but I'm not a Flight Attendant.


It was VFR to the new alternate. It was a “gas and go” meaning they brought the paperwork out to the plane while we fueled up on a remote pad.


Normally whomever is flying will keep flying until we reach the destination. The Captain had enough and gave me the leg. Fine.


The weather had passed our original destination. The ATIS was advertising thunderstorms still. Approach assured the field was VFR. We were coming in from the south and told to expect runway 18. I planned my descent for that approach.


Well the approach controller offered up runway 36. I could see the airport and thought it might work.


I called for flaps and tossed out the speed brakes.


“Ya know what, it's going to be too steep, the passengers have had enough of a wild ride, ask for 18 instead.” I told my Captain.




While on final, another flight called tower.


“We are currently holding about 20 miles west, how are the field conditions?” they asked


“Absolutely great now. VFR. An aircraft is currently rolling out on final. Winds calm” tower replied.


“Great we will see you soon.” the flight responded.


The runway was quite wet. Slight hydroplaning as we were the first flight in after the storm.


We hoped for a quick turn and started the APU. This was our go home leg.


“Operations we are going to try for a quick turn. The APU is running we won't need any power or air” I advised.


As the passengers left I headed out for a post flight. Rounding the nose my hopes of going home faded. The nose was missing paint....a few charred marks. I tapped on the side of the plane and motioned for the Captain to come down.


“Think we got hit?” I asked.


“Not sure, let's look for an exit point.” he stated.


Normally when hit by lightening the strike exits through a static wick on the wings.


We looked all over the exit point. Odd.


Regardless we had to have an inspection. The passengers waiting to board could clearly see us inspecting the nose and plane. The station manager came down and assumed the worst.




I called my wife and let her know the situation. We had plans to fly out the next morning to visit family. She and my daughter would still go.


My wife didn't like the news, but she knows it's always a possibility that I could be delayed.


While talking to her the flight canceled all together. Scheduling had my crew deadheading home the next morning. The flight would arrive well after my family was leaving. Time for a plan B.


I went to and looked for a way out west. As luck would have it there was a Frontier flight leaving at 6AM for Denver. From there I could hop on any number of airlines to meet my family.


We headed to the hotel van. A little awkward as the van was full of passengers from our cancelled flight.


Once at the hotel I called my wife again. If everything worked out I would arrive just minutes after them.


I planned a 4:30AM van to make sure I had time to clear security and list for the jump seat.


Arrived and done. It was supposed to be a full flight. When I listed I asked if they could check me through to my final destination. This would prove critical later.

A few passengers were no shows so I got a whole row to myself.

Once in Denver I had just an hour till the next flight.

I arrived at the next gate and went through the check in process with the agent (I'm not posting exactly what to do as to avoid tipping off folks who want to attempt to bypass security). The agent looked up my name and said I was number on for the jump seat. I looked to my right and noticed two Virgin America pilots sitting down.

They had check in just before I arrived. Since I was check thru I was ahead of them. If I had waited until I arrived in Denver I would have been below them.

Right before boarding a United pilot arrived looking for a ride as well.

The plane was totally full. The Airbus 319 has two jump seats. I got one and one of the Virgin America pilots got the other.

I was tired. After being showed how to use the jump seat I locked in and tried to stay awake.

We all talked about typical pilot stuff for about 40 minutes....then it got quiet.

A little over two hours later "Retard! Retard!" came over the speakers. We were on the ground.

My wife and daughter arrived 10 minutes prior.

Time to rest up and enjoy time with my family.


  1. I can't believe how beautiful those storm clouds look from a distance - almost like sirens tempting you in for a closer look!

    Good to know the FA was ok in the back - every week there's another report on AV Herald about an FA injured by turbulence.

    Glad you made it to your family and thanks for the pics, I am an armchair geek and enjoy such things as the METAR.

    I'll be visiting the states for the first time with my wife next month including a couple of internal flights - sad thing is that's one of the parts of the hol I'm especially looking forward to!

    All the best

    Dave W

  2. I feel like the Airbus engineers who came up with "Retard, Retard!" clearly never knew about schoolyard bullies in the US...


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