The Lightning Strike That Almost Downed a Scottish Airliner

Lightning strikes are rarely dangerous for modern aircraft, which have enough protective layers to prevent any serious issues. However, Loganair Flight 6780 saw a dangerous sequence of events, resulting in the plane plunging to 1,100 feet before making a last-second recovery to prevent a crash. The flight departed Aberdeen Airport on Dec. 15, 2014, bound for Sumburgh Airport, the largest airport in the Shetland Islands. The flight left in good weather, carrying extra fuel for its return journey, with air traffic control reporting rain, snow and turbulent conditions in Simburgh. The 1-hour-10-minute hop was pretty much routine, but the weather meant the captain took time out to brief his co-pilot about the emergency procedures for a lightning strike before the descent. Upon approaching Runway 27, the captain opted to discontinue the approach due to rain clouds nearby. During the turn away from the runway, the plane was struck by lightning. The captain immediately took control and began pushing the plane nose-up with pitch and trim controls. However, the controls failed to respond and the aircraft began entering a pitch-down position instead. Despite repeated crew attempts to pitch up, the autopilot remain engaged. The autopilot only disengaged at 4,000 feet due to a faulty sensor, by which time the aircraft was descending at a rate of 9,500 feet per minute. Fortunately, the pilots’ pitch-up commands came into effect seconds later at 1,500 feet, after which they increased speed and rose to 24,000 feet for a diversion back to Aberdeen Airport for a safe landing. No passengers were injured beyond the surprise of a sudden descent and ascent minutes later. The incident resulted in the AAIB (the UK version of the NTSB) making safety recommendations about the plane's autopilot system, including adding modifications that would allow the autopilot to disengage in multiple instances where pilot controls oppose the system.