Video shows plane being hit by lightning after takeoff from YVR

Dramatic video captured in Richmond by student pilot Ethan West shows the moment a plane appears to get struck by lightning after taking off from YVR. Kate Walker reports.

Stunning video shared with CityNews captured the moment a plane was struck by lightning, shortly after it took off from Vancouver International Airport over the weekend.

The man who shared footage of the strike tells CityNews it happened on Sunday, March 3, just before 7:30 p.m.

The flight — which appears to be an Air Canada aircraft that was bound for London Heathrow — is seen taking off from YVR before a bolt comes crashing down, illuminating the sky as it hits the plane.

A screenshot of a plane being hit by lightning shortly after it took off from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) on Sunday, March 3, 2024
A screenshot of a plane being hit by lightning shortly after it took off from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) on Sunday, March 3, 2024. (Submitted by Ethan West)

People in the background of the video are heard gasping as the lighting hits the plane, which continues on seemingly unaffected.

Ethan West, a student pilot, says he often takes some time to watch planes at YVR when he’s done class.

“I saw that there was a 777-300 taking off that was going to be heading for London Heathrow, and the 777 is one of my favourite aircraft and is, like, the largest twin-engine aircraft, so I thought it’d be interesting to snap a quick video of it because it’s super loud,” he recalled.

“As I was taking a video of it, I got super lucky.”

West says his initial reaction was shock, noting he didn’t expect the lightning strike. His attention then shifted to questioning what would happen next.

“I was just wondering what was going to happen. From my perspective, I was wondering if they were going to have to divert because I know that there’s, obviously, checklists that they’re going to have to follow. I know that there wouldn’t be any serious issues but just wondering if they’re going to have to divert, and if even the passengers knew what was going on,” West said.

As he’s learned, West says planes have mechanisms in place with lightning in mind. From what he understands, lightning strikes are “not usually a huge deal,” though he points out aircraft will usually undergo inspections after they land if they’re hit.

While he knows this type of thing happens from time to time, West admits this is the first time he’s seen lightning hit a plane straight on.

John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University’s Aviation Management Program, says there’s really no danger at all to passengers and crew if lightning strikes aircraft.

“It’s a regular occurrence, [you] don’t need to be worried about it,” he told CityNews. “It is spectacular when you see it from the ground, and it is spectacular if you happen to be seated at the right place at the right time on the airplane, looking out the wing.”

Gradek explains that part of ground crews’ job when an affected plane lands, is to “ground” the airplane.

“The first thing that has to be done by the ground staff, is basically to ‘ground’ the airplane — that is a wire that they attach to the airplane at the moment the airplane is stopped. That wire basically dissipates any electrical energy that’s stored in the airplane [from a lightning strike].”

According to the National Weather Service in the U.S., passenger planes are generally “hit by lightning an average of one or two times a year.”

“They are designed and built to have conducting paths through the plane to take the lightning strike and conduct the currents,” the agency explains.

“Actually, aircraft often initiate the strike because their presence enhances the ambient electric fields typical for thunderstorms and facilitates electrical breakdown through air.”

With files from Kate Walker

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