Less than one month ago, Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport Board members were celebrating the grand opening of the airport’s new $1 million, 6,000 square foot terminal.
Friday morning, they were breathing a sigh of relief after lightning struck the building, but fortunately caused no major damage and no injuries.
"It could have been a lot worse. We’re awful lucky. We are very fortunate that it didn’t do more damage than it did," said Airport Board Chairman Keith Brashear.
Brashear said late Monday afternoon that insurance adjusters still don’t have an estimate yet on the monetary damage and are waiting to speak with the company that constructed the building.
The lightning strike occurred about 8 a.m. before workers arrived at the building.
Brashear said an Air Evac Lifeteam employee happened to be looking out the window from their base at the airport and witnessed the lightning strike.
"It was a pretty violent strike. He saw a flash about the time he heard the boom. He said it was pretty loud. It scared him pretty good," Brashear said.
When he went on top of the roof to check out the damage after the storm, Brashear said he could still smell burnt wood.
"I believe it hit the cupola plus the roof. It appeared to me that the lightning had actually penetrated the roof. You could smell the burn of the shingles and the wood that was lying underneath," he noted.
The strike caused varying amounts of damage both inside and outside the building.
"The cupola is possibly beyond repair. It is fiberglass, and it is cracked," Brashear said. "There is some shingle damage. I believe the cupola actually shifted in position and moved a little bit bringing up some shingles around it."
He said other shingles appeared to have been damaged when some shutters from the building blew off and struck the roof.
Brashear said that once airport officials got up to the roof to start making temporary repairs Friday, they discovered that the damage was a little more severe than they had originally thought.
Lightning caused about four to five cracks in the cupola and blew a one-foot wide hole in the roof itself.
Brashear said that the roof appeared to have burned slightly where the lightning struck, but fortunately the rain appeared to have extinguished it quickly. If not for the rain, then the whole building could have caught on fire.
Inside the building, some grids over the light fixtures in the part of the building that will house the Whitley County 911 Dispatcher Center were knocked down due to the force of the strike. A ceiling tile in the kitchen area was also knocked down.
Brashear said it’s fortunate that 911 hadn’t moved into the facility yet with all of its computer equipment.
The airport itself only has a limited amount of electronic equipment inside the building, the most notable of which is the transmitter and the security system.
"The security system made it through it alright. It has some lightning protection that it is plugged into," he noted.
Brashear said the airport board is limited on its funds, but that the possible installation of lightning rods or some type of lightning protection would probably be a topic of conversation at the next airport board meeting.