An Air New Zealand ATR-72 decided to divert to Auckland on Wednesday after a lightning strike incident. The aircraft was operating a scheduled passenger service when the lightning strike happened. The plane went on to safely in Auckland without injuries to passengers or crew.
Lightning strikes are not uncommon and pilots are trained to handle them
According to a report in The Aviation Herald, the incident happened mid-morning on Wednesday, November 25. The ATR-72, registered as ZK-MVF, was operating NZ5814 from Wellington to Hamilton. NZ5814 is the scheduled 09:00 departure from Wellington, located at the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island. The destination, Hamilton, is situated about 110 kilometers south of Auckland, further up the North Island. Flying time between Wellington and Hamilton on the ATR-72 is normally 75 minutes.
The Aviation Herald report notes the aircraft was approximately 50 nautical miles west of Taupo when the crew suspected a lightning strike incident and decided to divert to Auckland. The ATR-72 touched down at 10:42 local time on Wednesday.
An Air New Zealand spokesperson told New Zealand’s One News that lightning strikes are not uncommon and pilots are trained to deal with them.
Air New Zealand has 28 ATR-72s. This particular plane, ZK-MVF, has been flying for less than six years and with Air New Zealand for all of that time. It is unclear how many passengers were onboard yesterday’s flight, but Air New Zealand’s ATR-72 can carry 68 passengers.
Air New Zealand’s flagship Boeing 777s and 787 Dreamliners have a far higher profile outside of New Zealand than their ATR-72s. But the fleet of ATR turboprops is the backbone of Air New Zealand’s regional flying. They link regional cities and towns to each other and the bigger cities of Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.
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A spate of lightning strikes for Air New Zealand
As the airline spokesperson noted, lightning strikes are not uncommon. In recent months, Air New Zealand aircraft have been involved in a few of them.
Late in May, an Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flying from Auckland to Papeete in French Polynesia was struck by lightning approximately 220 nautical miles northeast of Auckland while cruising at FL370. After the lightning strike, the pilot turned the Boeing back towards Auckland, landing safely.
In early August, an Air New Zealand Airbus A320-200 was carrying 144 passengers and crew between Auckland and Queenstown when it was struck by lightning north of Christchurch. The aircraft then diverted to Christchurch and landed safely. A passenger said lightning hit the top of the right-hand engine with a “whack.”
In late September, an Air New Zealand Airbus A320-200N was operating a flight from Invercargill to Auckland. It received a lightning strike while descending into Auckland. The aircraft landed safely.
On Wednesday, a thunderstorm warning was in place over much of New Zealand’s North Island as a weather system moved across the island in an easterly direction.
After landing, passengers were put onto other flights heading to Hamilton. Air New Zealand’s engineers then checked the plane over. It stayed on the ground for approximately 24 hours before returning to service. On Thursday morning, ZK-MVF was back in business, operating a scheduled service from Auckland to Palmerston North.