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Lightning damages jet, rocks passengers

Apr 13 2012

Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux is accustomed to loud blasts of sound and light, but when a huge fireball rocked his WestJet flight into Victoria Thursday, it was a psychedelic show unlike any he's ever seen.

No one was injured and the plane landed safely. But the fuselage suffered considerable damage and the plane was flown without passengers to Vancouver for repairs, said Terry Stewart, of the Victoria International Airport Authority.

"It was a huge blast of fire on the left side," said Lemieux, of Victoria. "It was so bright it looked like it was inside the plane.

"Everyone, and I mean everyone, felt spooked," Lemieux said.

The lightning struck WestJet flight 1733 from Las Vegas as it descended into Victoria Thursday afternoon, said WestJet spokeswoman Jennifer Sanford. It's a rare occurrence, she said.

"It sounded like a really loud explosion; a quick blast," said Lemieux, legacy manager and archivist of the American rock band the Grateful Dead. He was returning from the opening reception of a yearlong Grateful Dead exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

"There was a huge, jarring shake to the plane" and "a collective shriek," Lemieux said. "We thought it was lightning or an engine blew."

Once passengers saw that the plane was still flying steadily and a flight attendant confirmed "in a nervous voice" that it was a lightning strike, all was calm, he said.

To accommodate a soldout flight back to Las Vegas Thursday night, WestJet planned to use a plane coming in from Calgary, but that flight was delayed by a snowstorm in Alberta.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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