How lightning can reduce fear

A few years ago, we decided to visit Barcelona on New Year’s Eve. One of the reasons we wanted to go there was our experience with the usually spectacular Spanish fireworks. So we were there at the main square, Plaza de Catalunya, waiting for the things to come. But nothing happened. Well, there was a big party, and lots of green champaign bottles were smashed to bits, but no fireworks. None at all. After an hour or so we left Plaza de Catalunya, still being amazed about what had (not) happened. At that moment we did not know we were going to experience some fireworks after all, about 24 hours later.

In the afternoon of New Year’s Day we found ourselves at the airport of Barcelona, waiting for a plane to take us home. It arrived on time, but boarding was delayed over and over again. Until they told us that they had a technical problem, and a spare part had to arrive from another airport. Oh dear, the plane is broken. How is it ever going to take me home safely? Do these guys know what they are doing? Disturbing thoughts, but I managed to keep calm. After all, it was a KLM flight, and KLM does not crash very often, does it?

We finally boarded the aircraft after hours of delay. A sort of relief when the captain explained which part had been broken, and that it had all been properly fixed now. It was already dark outside when we took off, and set course for Amsterdam. Everything was fine until the descent. Apparently we entered a bad weather area and the plane was shaking and rolling. All right, this happens  sometimes, just wait twenty minutes and you will have your feet safely on the ground. I was sitting in a window seat above the wing, and was just looking outside when I saw a flash at the wing tip together with a huge bang. No one really took notice it seemed, and it took me a few seconds to whisper that I thought we had been struck by lightning. After a few minutes this was confirmed by the crew who told that there were some checks to be made to see if we were safe for a normal landing. Fortunately, everything still worked fine. But from that moment on I was a bit shaky.

A couple of days after the incident, I thought it all over again. It was a fear inducing event, but in the end my confidence in airplanes had increased. I mean, when lightning strikes an airplane, and it did not cause any disturbance whatsoever, then that plane is pretty safe. That is what you can also learn from series like Air Crash Investigation, in which not only fatal crashes, but also incidents with a fortunate ending are being covered. An airplane needs a lot more than one lightning stroke to get out of balance. It is rock solid.


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