Plane Struck by Lightning While in Air: 'There Was Quite a Lot of Turbulence'

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Lightning is seen through the window of a Malaysian Airlines plane over the Kuala Lumpur on November 29, 2010. Lightning recently struck an Air New Zealand flight, and the plane safely returned to the airport. SAEED KHAN/Getty Images

An Air New Zealand flight returned to Wellington Airport on Monday after it was struck by lightning shortly after departure.

Flight NZ 8894 took off from the airport at 3:20 p.m. local time, but about five or so minutes later, the plane was struck by lightning, according to the New Zealand Herald.

"There was a big flash outside and the plane definitely shook a little bit, then after that there was quite a lot of turbulence," a passenger who wished to remain anonymous, told the Herald. About 20 minutes after the flash of lightning, the captain announced that the plane had been struck, but since nothing appeared to be wrong it would continue on its way.

When the flight was about 10 to 15 minutes outside Napier, about 200 miles away, however, it was recommended that it turn back and return to the airport. A passenger suspected that this recommendation came out of an abundance of caution, and credited the airline with putting safety first.

Newsweek reached out to Air New Zealand but did not receive an immediate response. A spokesperson for the airline told the Herald that the plane was inspected and is back in service, adding that customers were put on an alternative flight.

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An Air New Zealand plane takes off from the airport in Sydney on August 23, 2017. Lightning recently struck an Air New Zealand flight, and the plane safely returned to the airport. AFP Contributor/Getty Images

This isn't the first time lightning has struck a plane in flight, and on June 25, Hawaiian Air Flight 30 was struck shortly before it landed safely at Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle. Emily Todd told KOMO News that at the time of the strike, there was terrible turbulence and a bright flash.

While lightning is startling for passengers, Boeing explained on its website that lightning strikes are "relatively common" and often don't result in significant damage. In an effort to protect its planes in the event of a lightning strike, Boeing uses lightning protection, including, wire bundle shields and ground straps, and protection for the composite structure.

Air New Zealand's fleet has a variety of planes, including 26 Boeing planes, according to a list on the airline's website. During an interview with The Telegraph, Mamu Haddad, a professor and director at Cardiff University's Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory, explained that although passengers may hear a noise and see a light, they aren't usually in danger.

"One effect on the aircraft body might be some local melting, where the lightning struck, but the aerospace industry is highly conservative, and testing so rigorous, that passengers aren't at risk," he said.

But that's not to say that lightning striking planes never results in death or injury—multiple people have been killed as a result of lightning strikes over the years, including 81 people on a Pan Am flight in 1963 and 21 people onboard a Swearingen Metro aircraft in 1988, according to NBC News.

Although planes are built to withstand a bolt of lightning, the National Weather Service's website states that it's not uncommon for planes to be hit, and commercial transport passenger planes are struck on average one or two times a year.