WATE 6 On Your Side staff - BILOXI, Miss. (WATE/WFLA/WKRG) -- A Hurricane Hunter plane and their crew are safe at Keesler Air Force Base after crew members say they believe their plane was struck mid-flight by lightning.
J.B. Biunno and Cameron Edgeworth, reporters from WKRG-TV, were actually on board when the lightning strike happened. Crews told Edgeworth that the lightning only caused aesthetic damage to the nose of the plane.
Either hail damage or lightning also caused damage to their propeller, according to flight members. There were no injuries, but the plane was grounded while maintenance crews repair the plane.
"We're lucky," said Biunno. "I'm grateful that the structural integrity of this aircraft wasn't compromised by this aircraft."
Crew members said the nose of the plane is actually grounded to channel electricity from a lightning strike into the hull of the plane so that the structural integrity of the nose of the airplane stays intact. Biunno said he was told without the grounds they could have been in a much worse situation. Crews said the electricity from the lightning strike would have punctured a hole in the nose of the plane.
NOAA Hurricane Hunter crews gather crucial data from Hurricane Irma
While most people board planes to escape major storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Hurricane Hunter flight program do the exact opposite. A group of pilots, scientists and meteorologists has been working 12 hour shifts working to analyze and aid forecasters in predicting Hurricane Irma's next move.
"It's so awesome to see what these people do for a living just to get the information we need in order to know when to evacuate and things like that," said Edgeworth. "If it wasn't for them we wouldn't know any information as far as how strong the hurricane is, where it is heading next. Satellites are pretty good, but the meteorologists were telling me that they aren't good enough to be able to get that information."
The crews use equipment on board to analyze the hurricane and also use GPS devices called "dropsondes" to gather data. The devices record information such as air temperature and pressure, wind speed and direction and humidity. Those are key elements in determining the storm's strength and hopefully narrow down its track.
During the flight Biunno and Edgeworth were on Hurricane Ira was downgraded to a Category 3. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was able to get the information and send it out to meteorologists across the country to help with their forecasting.
Commander Scott Price returned from an eight plus hour flight on Friday night. He describes Irma as a massive storm.
"One of the most intense hurricanes I've ever flown in," said Price. "It's got an incredible amount of energy, extreme turbulence, everything you would imagine flying through a hurricane would be like. "
One of the team's aircraft flies right through they eye of the storm, the other flies above and around it. Commander Scott Price has a passion for what he does.
"What we do is contrary to everything pilots are trained to do….Ourselves included," said Price. "But, it is extremely rewarding. The service we are providing."
He believes the data collected can and does make a difference and truly does save lives.