A commercial helicopter was struck by lightning two-thirds of the way into its roughly 30-minute flight from Vancouver to Victoria on Tuesday (Oct. 24).
The HeliJet copter was being guided by instruments as it traversed through the clouds at 4,000 feet when it was about 10 minutes from its Victoria harbour destination. The helicopter was then hit by what the company is 99.9 per cent sure was a lightning strike.
After the navigational instruments went black from the strike, pilots brought the aircraft down to 1,300 feet to get out of the clouds, Rick Hill, HeliJet’s vice president of commercial and business programs, said in an interview.
The lightning damaged the tail rotor of the helicopter, but it was able to land in Victoria and none of the 12 passengers or two crew aboard were injured. HeliJet agents spoke with and checked on the passengers upon their 9:45 a.m. arrival before the flyers left the terminal and went about their days, Hill said.
Noting he’s not a pilot, Hill said the strike would make the aircraft more difficult to control but their pilots train for these kinds of scenarios.
“In this instance, they were able to maintain that control and fly the aircraft and land safely,” he said. “They’re all highly trained pilots and this is when it pays off.”
Two of the four rotors were gone after the lightning’s impact. Hill said the rear system is used to counterbalance the top rotor in order to keep the aircraft moving in a straight line.
While they do occur, lightning strikes are rare and affect the entire airline industry, Hill said, adding it’s happened one other time in his 34 years on the job.
“It’s not something that happens a lot.”
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada was notified of the incident on Tuesday morning and it has not yet deployed investigators, spokesperson Liam MacDonald said.
“We are in the process of gathering information and assessing the event to determine whether we will be launching a full investigation,” the TSB official said.