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Lightning Strike Downs Plane in Colombia But Most Passengers Survive

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Lightning reportedly struck a passenger plane landing in bad weather on the island of San Andres, Colombia on Monday morning, causing a crash that destroyed the plane, but only resulted in one fatality.

The plane, a Boeing 737 operated by local carrier Aires, crashed about 260 feet short of the runway at Gustavo Rojas Pinilla Airport, breaking the fuselage into three pieces.

Of the 131 passengers on board, 114 people have been reported injured. Four people suffered major injuries said officials at Amor de Patria Hospital on San Andres, where survivors were being treated.

The crash’s only fatality was a 68-year-old woman who authorities said died from a heart attack.

Colombian police authorities are still investigating the circumstances behind the crash.

However, many Colombians, including officers in the Colombian Air Force and San Andres’ Governor Pedro Gallardo, are already calling today’s crash a miracle and heralding the pilot as a hero for skillfully keeping the plane from colliding into the airport.

Stormy skiesMonday morning’s crash was the also first reported commercial airliner crash caused by lightning since 1988, when lightning downed a Swearingen Metro aircraft in Germany. Twenty-one people on board that flight died.

The crash was the first lightning-related crash in South American since 1971, when Lansa Flight 508 en route from Lima, Peru, broke apart in mid-air after being hit by lightning, killing 91.

One teenage girl onboard the plane survived the crash after falling two miles into the Amazon rainforest. She was rescued 10 days later by local lumbermen.

In the U.S., there has not been a lightning related crash since 1962. In December of that year, a Pan American Boeing 707 was hit by lightning while in a holding pattern over Elkton, Maryland. The lightning created a spark that ignited fuel vapor in the plane’s tank, causing an explosion. All 81 people onboard were killed by the resulting crash.

That crash was a catalyst for airplane improvements that have for the most part been effective in protecting against lightning strikes. Commercial airplanes are struck by lightning once a year on average, but aluminum bodies and built-in lightning protection systems guard against equipment failures, fires and explosions.

The majority of lightening strikes are dissipated or redirected by equipment onboard the plane and do not result in fatalities.

By Adriana Padilla by PeterGreenberg.com.

Related Links: National Public Radio, BBC, USA Today

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