"Recently, I read an article concerning “Ball Lightning” written by Dr. Graham K. Hubler, Ph.D. The article reminded me of an unforgettable experienced I had in the late 1960’s during one of my Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) Boeing 707 flights as a stewardess. At that time, Pan Am was the principal and largest international airline in the United States.
In the late 1960’s stewardesses were privileged with unrestricted access within the airplane. Unfortunately, subsequent to the tragic 9/11 event the aviation industry has changed forever. In the 1960’s the cockpit was not locked and with the captain’s consent we could sit on the pilot jump-seat during take-offs and landings. Presently, the cockpit is securely locked and jump-seats are limited to deadheading pilots returning to their home base.
This event occurred during the glamorous era when Pan Am was at its pinnacle in the airline industry. Private planes were an unrealistic expectation and Pan Am tickets were an extravagant expense.
Pan Am welcomes Class #26, to the International Stewardess College in Miami! Their graduation date --July 25, 1967. Women from Mexico, England, Sweden, Germany, and many states across the U.S. are represented here. We thank stewardess Najla (Evelyn Tanous, first row, first on left) for sharing these with Pan Am Museum.
As customary, the Pan Am Purser (lead cabin crew member) was provided with a copy of the manifest of passengers prior to their embarkation. With this pearl of knowledge, the purser apprised the cabin crew of “Who’s Who” on the flight. This information assured Pan Am that the crew’s demeanor would be composed and sophisticated when welcoming aboard a famous passenger such as a member of a royal family, famous movie actors, high ranking politicians etc.
The gourmet meal service consisted of several courses and was catered by one of the most famous restaurants of its time in the world, Maxim’s of Paris. The numerous courses were served on fine china, crystal glasses, and silver plated flatware with the Pan Am logo. Once the meal service was complete the satiated passengers started to get comfortable with their complimentary Pan Am socks and blankets in anticipation of a long nap until the breakfast service. At that time, the cabin crew would dim the cabin lights dark enough to encourage the passengers to sleep. (no TV, music or internet).
After the meal service, the protocol allowed for some of the stewardesses to rest in the back of the plane until the preparation of the breakfast service. On this particular flight I was one of the crew members on night watch.
As soon as everyone appeared settled, with occasional snoring, I started to walk up the aisle from the back of the plane to insure that every passenger had their seat-belt buckled as we were in the middle of a thunderstorm. BANG! Our airplane was hit by lightning. All of a sudden, this flight became one of my more momentous transatlantic flights.
At that time, I was unaware that thunderstorms were very stressful and anxious moments for the pilots. Evidently, on December 8, 1963, a Boeing 707 Pan Am flight 214 was in a holding pattern waiting for permission to land when a lightning hit the plane and it exploded. Also, in 1967, was the last confirmed civilian aircraft to have been hit by lightning and crash, according to Lightning Technologies. Presently, there have been many changes to insure that such catastrophes no longer occur.
Within a few seconds of the lighting strike, I could see a bright ball of light about two feet wide, originating from the cockpit. The light illuminated the cabin as it levitated down the aisle towards me. I froze as the bright ball of light flew right through me and exited through the tail of the plane. It lasted a matter of seconds. Several passengers lifted up their heads, did not see anything and went back to sleep. I tried to maintain a calm demeanor as I “rushed” to the cockpit. Upon entering I saw the pilots faces were distressed and ashen in color. I asked what happened and they informed me with relief that we were hit by lightning, however, we were lucky to be safe. They lamented how no one knows why some lightning strikes explode airplanes and others do not. One pilot expressed that it could be the altitude or barometric pressure that makes the difference, however, no one knows.
I thank Dr. Graham K. Hubler, Ph.D., a nuclear physicist who worked 40 years for the Naval Research Laboratory, and presently is the Director of the Sidney Kimmel Institute for Nuclear Renaissance at Missouri University, for giving me the reason and knowledge to write this article regarding an incident that happened to me so many decades ago. Dr. Hubler, is a prolific scientist, writing over 100 journal articles and procuring numerous patents. He has been fascinated with Ball Lightnings since he was a teenager as you will note in the attached YouTube. I believe that Ball Lightning still remains an unknown phenomenon."
"I am attaching the clip where another stewardess had a similar experience on a flight with a Ball Lightning, however, she did not have any physical contact with it."
Cradle of Aviation Museum
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