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)