getting hit by lightning

From: (A. Funda Ergun)
Organization: Laboratory for Computer Science, MIT
Date:         07 Jul 96 14:16:00 
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Last month, on my way from Boston to Philadelphia in a really bad
storm, during mid-flight, we saw a sudden flash of light, and felt
a major jolt. The plane, after tilting severely and bouncing up and down
and shaking for some time, resumed its regular flight eventually and we
landed without an incident. A person sitting next to the wing claims to have
seen lightning hit the wing, the pilot said he didn't know if we were
actually hit. All in all, it was a scary experience, mostly because I had
no idea about how dangerous or commonplace this was. I know planes are
designed to handle lightning (otherwise how would you expect to put a
large chunk of metal inside storm clouds safely?), but how OK is it exactly
to be hit? (in our case even the lights didn't go off)
Is it a pretty common thing to happen? Has anybody crashed because of it?
(I presume the plane could take some throwing around but the electrical
system might die.) I am wondering if we were actually hit, or if we just
experienced a near miss. Of course, this sentence might be totally
meaningless since there might be a continuous spectrum between a hit and
a miss...

It was an interesting experience in how slowly time passes during distress :-)



Funda Ergun
Dept of CS, Cornell University