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Elkton, site of famous jet crash after lightning strike

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Search and rescue teams spotted debris in the Atlantic Ocean along the flight path of the missing Air France jet this morning. While the Brazilian Air Force cautions that there is not enough wreckage to conclude they’re the remains of Flight 447, it certainly looks that way.

Initially Air France floated the theory that the plane was brought down by lightning. Experts are split on whether that’s a plausible explanation; planes have been struck in the past, but rarely with catastrophic results. Though it’s hard to comprehend, planes are designed to withstand lightning.

That wasn’t the case for Pan AM Flight 214, the United States’ first official instance of a plane destroyed by lightning – which occurred right here in Elkton, Maryland.

More than 80 people were killed in December 1963 when the Boeing 707, en route from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia, entered a lightning-streaked rainstorm. Officials believe that next the jet was hit by lightning and exploded in mid-air. Witnesses reported a resulting “ball of fire”; bits of the wreckage landed in a cornfield and on nearby farms.

“It’s going to be a very, very difficult job of identification,” Dr. Russell S. Fisher, Maryland’s chief medical examiner who was on the scene, told The (Syracuse) Post-Standard.

Dr. Fisher emphasized there would be “no personal or visual identification of the remains,” saying it would be futile for relatives to come to Elkton for that purpose.

You can read more about the Elkton crash and other high-profile airplane lightning strikes here. (PDF)

4 comments

  1. Pardon me, but I’ve been curious.

    If a car can be struck by lightening without a problem, why not a plane?

    Anybody know?

  2. Liz Farmer, Business Writer

    Well, I do know that the rubber wheels ground the car, thereby neutralizing it if struck by lightening. I imagine that’s not possible with a plane…

  3. I was born and raised in Elkton and we saw the fireball after the plane was struck. It lit up our living room as we watch tv.75

  4. When lightning strikes a vehicle or plane, the charge travels along the exterior. It is important that there are no gaps. The charge exits through another point of the vehicle. The rubber wheels have nothing to do with it. For example, if you are in the bed of a pickup truck and the truck is hit by lightning, the charge will pass through the riders in the bed because there is no means of the charge to flow around the occupants. Planes are built with safety mechanisms in place, the charge travels along the aluminum skin of the aircraft, exiting at some other location, protecting passengers and flight systems and especially fuel tanks.