On average, every commercial airplane is struck by lightning at least once per year. But with reinforced fuel tanks and hardened electronics, planes are designed to withstand these thousands of amperes without much incident. In fact, lightning hasn't downed a plane in the U.S. since
But accidents can still happen. On May 5, a Sukhoi Superjet, operated by Russian operator Aeroflot, was struck by lightning shortly after takeoff at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, becoming a devastating fireball down the tarmac after landing. Before crews were able to douse the flames and evacuate passengers and crew members, 41 people had been killed.
At the time of the incident, Aeroflot said the planed returned to the airport due to "technical reasons," but the that the plane was struck by lightning soon after takeoff on the way to Murmansk. The crew also says lightning caused communication problems with air traffic control. shows the trouble plane's .
While investigators continue looking for answers, lightning is an atypical cause for crashes. Planes are built to withstand such brushes with nature as aluminum structures usually redistribute a lightning strike without causing damage. Newer planes, like Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, are made of carbon fiber, which is lighter and less conductive than aluminum.
Any plane crash is an tragedy, especially when lives are lost, but hopefully investigators learn something from this flight's black box that helps protect future passengers from a similar fate.