Static Discharge Flames Seen From Alaska Airlines 737 Engine

An Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Cordova was struck by lightning as it was preparing to land, causing what looked like flames to shoot out of one of the engines.

The Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-700, with 60 passengers aboard was on route from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) to Cordova Municipal Airport (CHU) on Monday the 27th of January 2020 when the incident occurred.


Alaska Airlines aircraft hit by lightning while landing. Photo: Nathan Coats Wikipedia Commons

IT director for the Native Village of Eyak, Steve Bambakidis, told the Anchorage Daily News that he heard a loud bang and felt the aircraft shake as the plane was coming into land.

“The engine exploded, is what it sounded like,” he said. “It was hit hard and we saw flames shooting out.”

After safely landing the aircraft was taken out of service

At the time of the incident, Bambakidis said he thought he was going to die, but the plane carried on as if nothing had happened landing safely in Cordova. Following its arrival in Cordova where it was supposed to pick up passengers for Yakutat, Juneau, and Seattle, the aircraft was taken out of service and flown directly to Seattle for a mechanical inspection.

After the lightning strike the aircraft was taken out of service. Photo: Alaskan Airlines

When asked about the incident by the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Airlines spokesperson Tim Thompson said that the aircraft had been hit by lightning and the report of flames shooting out of the engine was probably a static discharge from the plane’s wings. All 30 of the passengers who were booked to continue on to further destinations were rescheduled for flights the next day (Tuesday).

Lightening striking planes happens all the time

When talking about lightning strikes on aircraft, Thompson said they were fairly common and do not put passengers in any danger. “The planes are designed to be able to handle lightning,” he said. “… It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen on occasion.”

The Alaska Airlines spokesperson went on to say that modern aircraft are built to withstand lightning and other forms of severe weather and that he was not aware of any crashes that were caused by a lightning strike. In the vast majority of incidents where lightning strikes a plane, the damage tends to be minimal and the aircraft is still safe to fly. Lightning strikes do sometimes leave a burn mark on the aircraft’s skin.

Lightening in snowstorms happens in southeast Alaska

When asked about the weather at the time of the lightning strike National Weather Service meteorologist, Bob Clay said Cordova was experiencing light snow showers and temperatures in the mid-20s to low 30s. Winter lightning is fairly common along the coastal areas of southeast Alaska, where you have cold air aloft and a relatively warm sea surface temperature below.

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winter lightning is common in southeast Alaska near the coast. Photo: Alaska Airlines

When adding to his comments about the lightning strike on the 49-minute long late afternoon flight, Bambakidis said that the ride was quite choppy and that he was thankful that the pilots managed to land the plane safely.

“Everyone on the plane was shook up, but both pilots did a great job,” Bambakidis said.