Lightning strikes missionary plane at 20,000 feet


UKARUMPA, Papua New Guinea — No one was injured when a specialized missionary airplane designed to carry many passengers and heavy loads over long distances was recently hit by lightning while flying over the mountainous forests of Papua New Guinea.

The plane's right engine was destroyed and its wing burned, making landing at the airport in Ukarumpa where the plane is based a risky and dangerous ride for its passengers.

"This is like a scene out of a movie!" Bruce Smith, president and chief executive officer of Wycliffe Associates, said in a news release.

"A lightning bolt zaps across the sky, hitting a plane flying 20,000 feet above the rain forests of PNG. Shock and fear race through the cabin—they're just 15 minutes from landing and now everyone onboard is wondering if they'll make it.

"As a pilot myself, I know how miraculous it is that the pilot managed to safely land the plane in Ukarumpa. God's hand must have been guiding it down!"

With everyone safely on the ground, Wycliffe officials are now turning their attention to the damaged King Air, a plane crucial to Bible translation in PNG. According to officials, the right side is essentially useless: no engine, a burned wing, and a damaged propeller.

Purchased with funds contributed by Wycliffe Associates' supporters, the plane's repair and future service is a priority for missionaries working in PNG. Since there is very little ground transportation infrastructure in PNG, air transportation is the No. 1 means of ferrying people, supplies and cargo. The aircraft is also available in medical emergencies, when the King Air can fly the sick to more advanced medical facilities in Australia, often saving lives.

Another benefit of the aircraft is it is one of the few planes in the region that operates on jet fuel where most planes moving people and cargo run on commercial aviation fuel, "avgas," which in short supply. "We need to repair this plane right away so that those in PNG are prepared for emergencies," Smith said. "It is estimated the cost to overhaul the engine and repair structural damage will be over $300,000."

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