Swiss Airbus A321 Struck By Lightning Near Zurich

Wild weather has lashed Switzerland in the last 24 hours, leading to massive dumps of rain and more than 16,000 recorded lightning strikes. It caused significant delays at Zurich Airport and saw two Swiss International Airlines jets being struck by lightning shortly after takeoff and forced to return to the airport.

Two Swiss Airbus A321-200s were struck by lightning after leaving Zurich yesterday. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr.

The Local is reporting that bad weather forced Zurich Airport to temporarily halt departures yesterday morning, Tuesday, August 6th, as conditions have been unsafe for airport workers. Departures resumed just after 08:00 local time but more than 40 flights were delayed.

Two A321-200s struck by lightning

The Aviation Herald is reporting that two Swiss International Airlines A321-200s were struck by lightning when departing Zurich yesterday.

The first event concerned HB-IOD which was operating LX724. The Aviation Herald reports that the flight between Zurich and Amsterdam was hit by lightning on the climb out of Zurich. The flight, the scheduled 07.20 departure had been delayed for over ninety minutes following the temporary cessation of departures from Zurich.

There were 165 passengers onboard LX724 when the decision was made to turn back to Zurich. The Aviation Herald notes that turning around after a lightning strike is in line with Swiss policy. HB-IOD landed safely at 09:37 some 38 minutes after departure.

A Swiss A321-200. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Aviation Herald is also reporting that a second A321-200 operated by Swiss International Airlines was also hit by lightning while climbing out of Zurich yesterday. The aircraft (HB-IOF) was operating LX2084, the 11.55am departure, from Zurich to Lisbon.

The Lisbon flight was carrying 158 people. The pilots elected to return to Zurich and landed safely at 13:06,  approximately 15 minutes after departing. The flight was canceled and HB-IOF was grounded for four hours for inspection, later returning to service.

One passenger was quoted as saying,

“We heard a large bang over western Switzerland and the cabin was lit up by a lightning strike.” 

What happens during a lightning strike?

According to the Scientific American, a large commercial aircraft such as an A321-200 can reasonably expect to be struck by lightning at least once per year.

Departures from Zurich yesterday morning were temporarily halted. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

While the flash and noise involved in a lightning strike can be very disconcerting when onboard any aircraft, nothing serious should eventuate. Modern aircraft are engineered in a way that protects them from lightning.

Usually, lightning will strike an outlying part of the aircraft – a wingtip, tail, or nose cone. The plane effectively flies through the strike. The lightning moves along the aircraft akin to a super-fast laser beam. Effectively a circuit is created “between the cloud regions of opposite polarity” and the current will exit the aircraft as quickly as it entered it.

This doesn’t sound like a particularly happy event to experience at any height. But aircraft are designed to suffer no more than a flickering of lights. The current remains on the aircraft’s exterior and extensive shielding safeguards sensitive wiring, fuel, and the interior of the cabin.

The safe landing of the two Swiss International A321-200s yesterday reflects the integrity of the aircraft’s design and the crew’s training. The two incidents probably raised the blood pressure of several passengers on board the flights, but if that’s the worst that happened, that’s a good result.

Simple Flying reached out to Swiss International Airlines regarding yesterday’s lightning strikes but had no response prior to publication.