Four planes struck by lightning, land safely at both IAH and Hobby

March 9, 2012 9:00:54 PM PST
Four planes reported lightning strikes Friday evening, but were able to land safely at both Houston area airports.

At Bush Intercontinental Airport, a United Airlines flight as well as a small Atlantic Southeast flight were both hit by lightning after just taking off. The other two -- Delta and AirTran flights -- were flying into Hobby when they were struck. No one was hurt in any of the incidents, but passengers were shaken up.

Escorted by Houston firefighters and other IAH airport officials, United Flight 1007 bound for Bogota, Colombia pulled back into the gate. According to the FAA, the Boeing 737 with 124 passengers on board was 15 miles out when it was struck by lightning. Houston fire officials say smoke filled the cabin.

On Twitter, one passenger wrote,"omg lightning hit the plane on our way to Bogota and now we're back in Houston."

"Our plane was struck by lightning," wrote a second passenger on Twitter, "we're waiting on another one."

In all, four commercial flights reported lightning strikes in the Houston area in the 5 o'clock hour. Two planes -- including that United flight and Atlantic Southeast Flight 4637 en route to Mobile, Alabama carrying 47 passengers -- were outbound.

The other two -- Delta Flight 1832 with 141 passengers onboard and AirTran Flight 297 -- were both flying from Atlanta, Georgia to Hobby. All four landed safely without incident.

"They can be an extremely dramatic experience for the passengers because it's loud and they can see the flash of the lightning," said former pilot Josh Verde.

Josh Verde is a former Continental Express pilot with 15 years experience. He says planes are designed to withstand lightning strikes, but there are exceptions.

"Every once in awhile, there's a small interaction with the airplane system, so the cabin lights might flash or in the cockpit, the pilots might see one of their instruments flicker for a moment," said Verde.

He said that lightning strikes to planes happen more often than you would think. The last catastrophic one that we could find was more than 50 years ago.

All of the passengers who were headed out Friday night were put on replacement planes.