Grounded … in the Air?


Flying in remote places like the rain forests of Ecuador present pilots with plenty of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is the weather, and the swift way it changes. Navigating through poor weather is never easy.

One day I was flying with the president of the Ecuadorian Evangelical Missionary Association (AMEE). We had been together for a long day of visiting remote churches and were returning to the MAF base in Shell. I could see that it looked quite dark towards Shell, and a pilot on the ground in Shell suggested that I try flying more to the north and come around the storm from the northeast. I took his advice and altered course. Fifteen minutes later I had circumvented most of the storm and turned back towards Shell. I figured that I was still about ten minutes away (pre-GPS days!) and as I was getting my bearings and checking my heading, a huge clap of thunder and an intense flash of lightning stunned me and my passenger. My vision was temporarily washed out and I struggled to see the instrument panel. It was as if a thousand bulbs lit up unsuspectingly in front of me.

I turned away from the storm and made sure that my passenger was OK; he too was rapidly blinking trying to get the flash out of his eyes! It took a few moments before my vision returned. I was then able to safely navigate the plane around the storm and to land on the Shell Mera runway. Due to what we had experienced, I was sure that the plane had to have been be struck by lightning.

On the ground I thoroughly inspected the plane and could not find any evidence of a lightning strike. The AMEE president and I decided that the simplest explanation for surviving that lightning strike was that we were “two well-grounded men”!

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