A Proflight Zambia de Havilland Dash 8-300 was on its descent into Lusaka, Zambia, when it was caught in a sudden thunderstorm. The lightning, hail and downdraft caused severe damage to the aircraft which eventually reached the ground safely. Although the plane was carrying 41 passengers, there were no injuries.
A pilot is being praised as heroic today following an exciting, and slightly terrifying, flight yesterday. The pilot was on route PO-705 for local airline Proflight Zambia when the aircraft encountered a thunderstorm at approximately 15.20 local time. The aircraft was cruising at 19,000ft (5,791m) above sea level before beginning its descent into the capital, Lusaka, having left the tourist town of Livingstone.
The aircraft, registration 9J-PZB (MSN 405), flew into a hailstorm which caused significant damage to its nosecone, smashed the windscreen and left damage to the tailplane and wing roots.
Local news station Mwebantu shared a photo of the damaged plane on social media.
PASSENGERS were left fearing for their lives after a plane from Livingstone to Lusaka was struck by lightning in a
wild thunderstorm, as it stated to descent for Lusaka. #Zambia pic.twitter.com/xPaPUea4em
— Mwebantu (@Mwebantu) November 25, 2019
Although there were no serious injuries, a passenger reported ear pain and a headache due to a sudden loss in cabin pressure as the aircraft “dropped like a stone”. Despite this, passengers were unaware of the level of damage to the aircraft until disembarking when they saw the cracked windshield and the damaged nose cone.
A manager at Proflight said that the plane had been hit by lightning and the damage was not significant. However, in a later statement reported by the BBC, the airline clarified that,
“The damage caused by the hailstorm was significant and there was potentially a lightning strike in addition but this is pending closer inspection and not yet confirmed”.
There is even speculation that the plane should not be repaired at all due to the cost of fixing the damage.
A pilot in Zambia safely landed a passenger plane that was struck by lightning and a hailstorm, damaging its nose cone in the process. pic.twitter.com/9nnmtBwm6E
— Africa Facts Zone (@AfricaFactsZone) November 26, 2019
The statement continues that, “As a result of the incident, the aircraft will be out of service until the aircraft undergoes thorough maintenance and is certified to fly again. In the meantime, Proflight is working closely with its operations and safety departments to minimise disruption to schedules.”
The pilot has been lauded as a hero for his actions and has now been named as Capt. Walter Nhliziyo. He has been commended by Proflight for dealing with the incident with minimal disruption to the flight.
Aircraft are designed to withstand the impact of hailstorms as well as that of much larger objects such as birds without resulting in serious damage. However, hailstorms can still cause serious disruption as planes are often grounded for repairs.
While the easiest option is to avoid a hailstorm and therefore avoid any damage at all, this is easier said than done as hailstorms can be tricky to spot and can appear very fast. Did you also know that hail can be ejected out the top of a cloud and so can catch unsuspecting aircraft from below?
Earlier this year, a China Southern aircraft was damaged in a hailstorm also.
China Southern Airlines Airbus A380-841 B-6140 (MSN 120 – active), flight CZ3101 Guangzhou (CAN) – Beijing (PEK), due to large hail during the approach to PEK. pic.twitter.com/MsLpZ1ho4K
— Capt. Ivan (@CockpitChatter) May 27, 2019
When a plane is caught in a hailstorm, damage to the nose cone of the aircraft is fairly common and not overly serious in terms of passenger safety. Planes are rigorously tested to ensure anything hitting an aircraft at speed won’t endanger the crew or passengers. So although a scary situation, and one that the pilot and passengers will no doubt not want to repeat, we can be thankful that aircraft are designed to withstand a lot more than a hailstorm.
Have you ever experienced a hailstorm on an aircraft? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.