Alaska News

2 Alaska Airlines jets struck by lightning as storms hit Gulf and Southeast

Two Alaska Airlines jets traveling in southern Alaska were struck by lightning Monday, an official said.

Following the company's standard practice, both jets were taken out of service for inspections, said spokeswoman Ann Zaninovich.

The National Weather Service on Monday reported hundreds of lightning strikes in the Gulf of Alaska and Southeast Alaska.

Lightning first struck Flight 62, which was preparing to land in Sitka as it made its morning run through Southeast Alaska, Zaninovich said. The aircraft, carrying 98 passengers, landed normally and taxied to a gate, she said.

Alaska Airlines flew up a replacement jet from Seattle, and some travelers experienced a five-hour delay. Zaninovich said the replacement aircraft was expected to reach its final destination, Seattle, shortly before 10 p.m.

The second plane to experience a lightning strike was Flight 66, flying from Anchorage to Cordova. It landed in Cordova, and the remaining legs of its daily run were canceled, Zaninovich said.

There are no maintenance technicians in Cordova, and the jet was returned to Seattle for a proper inspection. The 35 passengers were lodged in Cordova and were to catch a flight out Tuesday morning, Zaninovich said.

Juneau-based National Weather Service meteorologist David Levin said thunderstorm systems like Monday's, generated when cold air from the Bering Sea or Interior Alaska passes over relatively warm Gulf of Alaska waters, aren't unusual winter weather for Southeast.

"We tend to get thunderstorms fairly often, especially early into the fall, even into December," Levin said. "This year we've had several where we get not just one or two or several (lightning strikes)."

The region's thunderstorms typically abate in January, Levin said, when the waters of the Gulf cool. For now, meteorologists are monitoring the approach of a similar system from the southwest, which is likely to generate thunderstorms over the eastern Gulf this week and may affect seaward areas of Southeast such as Sitka and Prince of Wales Island.

"All you need this time of year is cold air kind of aloft and a source of lift," Levin said.

Lightning striking commercial aircraft is not uncommon, according to Zaninovich. Jets are designed to dissipate the electrical discharge of a lightning bolt, leaving the engines unharmed. But occurrences are taken seriously and the aircraft stay out of service until fully inspected, she said.

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