Lightning strikes reported on two Alaska Airlines flights Sunday near Juneau

Alaska flight 64 takes off from Petersburg airport in July of 2018. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Multiple Alaska Airlines flights were hit by lightning in Southeast Alaska Sunday.

Alaska Airlines confirms that flights 64 and 65 both had lightning strikes from storms that moved through the northern panhandle and also knocked out power in the capital city Sunday.

Flight 65 was heading to Juneau from Petersburg.

“We were descending into Juneau when they flew through a big cumulus cloud,” said Leo Luczak, a passenger from Petersburg. “It started hailing and then we saw the flash outside the window and heard a big boom from getting hit by lightning.”

That flight landed in Juneau soon after. Luczak said the pilot notified passengers of the lightning strike and said the plane needed to be inspected. Passengers disembarked and waited in the Juneau airport for a flight to Anchorage later that evening. Juneau’s airport also lost power during the storm. Alaska Airlines says that plane was flown to Seattle without passengers for further inspection.

Meanwhile flight 64 was flying out of Juneau that day and also suffered a separate lightning strike. Instead of landing in Petersburg and continuing on to Wrangell the plane diverted to Ketchikan. The airline says a maintenance technician inspected the plane and cleared it to continue flying. That flight continued on to Seattle. Passengers bound for Petersburg and Wrangell finished their journeys on Monday.  

The company says no other planes were hit Sunday. However, passengers report another strike. Bill Menish of Petersburg said he was on two separate flights hit by lightning in one day. He and his wife were on flight 65 that landed in Juneau.

“We were probably down I don’t know around 20,000 feet or less, probably less and going through some clouds and then all of sudden there’s this more of a, kind of a big pop, and then just immediately on the tail of that was this bright flash,” he described. “It was almost kind of like a reddish yellow flash. It kind of startled everybody. Nobody panicked too bad though that I could tell but it definitely caught everybody’s attention.”

And Menish said their connecting flight 76 from Juneau to Seattle also was hit.

“When we took off were climbing out, the same thing only this was actually a louder pop and a brighter flash,” Menish said. “So I don’t know if it was something stronger but it was definitely louder and brighter.”

KTOO radio reports that storms were seen in Pelican as early as 8:00 a.m. Sunday and then moved through Icy Strait, Gustavus, Funter Bay, Douglas Island and up and down Stephens Passage. A big lightning show was reported in Excursion Inlet, west of Juneau.

Daniel Hartsock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau explained the storms moved into Juneau in the afternoon.

“They intensified over the Juneau area where we definitely got quite a few lightning strikes with a fairly good sized thunder storm that moved across the Auke Bay and the airport and into the valley and then another storm developed near downtown Juneau and kind of moved over Douglas and that area,” Hartsock said.

Juneau’s electric utility says lightning caused the power outage throughout the capital city that day and said strikes were reported in other parts of Juneau.

Matt Miller at KTOO in Juneau contributed to this report.

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Joe Viechnicki is a reporter at KFSK in Petersburg.

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