Fireball zipped through Soviet jet

15-16 January, 1984

MOSCOW (AP) — A ball of lightning passed through the passenger compartment of a Soviet airliner and “flew above the heads of the stunned passengers” before disappearing out the tail section, the official Soviet news agency Tass reports.

No one was injured in the incident, but radar and other equipment aboard the plane was damaged by the “visiting fireball,” which left two holes in the plane, Tass said.

The brief account, which also referred to the fireball as “ball lightning” did not say when the lightning struck the aircraft, an Ilyushin-18. A spokesman for the news agency told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the incident took place last week. The spokesman refused to be identified by name.

The Tass statement, reported from the agency’s bureau in Leningrad, said the plane took off in good weather from the town of Sochi on the Black Sea. Soon after takeoff, thunderclouds were spotted about 95 kilometres from the craft’s flight path.

“Suddenly, at the height of 1,200 metres, a fireball about 10 centimetres in diameter appeared on the fuselage in front of the crew’s cockpit,” Tass said. “It disappeared with a deafening noise, but re-emerged several seconds later in the passenger’s lounge, after piercing in an uncanny way through the air-tight metal wall.

“The fireball slowly flew about the heads of the stunned passengers. In the tail section of the airliner it divided into two glowing crescents which then joined together again and left the plane almost noiselessly,” the agency said.

The pilots immediately turned the craft and landed it safely at Sochi’s Adler airport, Tass said.

While repairing equipment aboard the plane, mechanics discovered two holes, one in the front of the fuselage and another in the tail section, Tass said.


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