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Hurricane hunter: Flight to Hurricane Ian ‘worst I’ve ever been on’

By Marnie Hunter, CNN

An aerospace engineer who flew into Hurricane Ian in the early morning hours Wednesday said the flight was the worst of his career.

“This flight to Hurricane #Ian on Kermit (#NOAA42) was the worst I’ve ever been on. I’ve never seen so much lightning in an eye,” hurricane hunter Nick Underwood said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Underwood, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, posted video of a very turbulent two minutes and 20 seconds aboard a NOAA flight. It shows people on the flight being jostled roughly in their seats, some laughing, and items including the plane’s bunks being knocked around as lightning flashed through the windows.

“We’re alright, we’re alright,” says one voice. “The ‘we’re alright’ was for me,” Underwood posted, also noting that the video was “edited for language.”

Underwood has been flying in storms for six years, and the flight was his 76th into a hurricane, he told CNN.

“There was a ton of turbulence, both up and down and the lateral turbulence, which is honestly the most unsettling part of it. It was something else,” Underwood said.

The aircraft, Kermit, is a Lockheed WP-3D Orion, an NOAA “Hurricane Hunter” that helps collect data used in tropical cyclone research and forecasting.

According to flight tracking site FlightAware, the flight took off from Houston at 2:55 a.m. CDT Wednesday and returned six hours and 47 minutes later.

“When I say this was the roughest flight of my career so far, I mean it. I have never seen the bunks come out like that. There was coffee everywhere. I have never felt such lateral motion,” Underwood posted.

He shared a series of photos from the eye of the storm 8,000 feet above the ocean. The plane circled the eye of the storm to deploy an experimental drone referred to as a UAS (uncrewed aerial system). Underwood was tasked with assisting with getting it onto and out of the aircraft.

“There is potential it opens the door for new and interesting data sets. We’re looking to see how it performs,” Underwood posted in advance of the Wednesday flight.

The system “worked great,” he tweeted later.

Underwood underlined that hurricane hunting flights have a mission.

“Want to stress we don’t this for fun. It’s a public service. We go up there to gather data on the storm that can keep folks on the ground safe,” he wrote.

“Those forecast models? A lot of the data comes from what we do. I’m a very small part of a large team. Incredible teammates.”

But it’s not all stone-cold serious when the crew is under pressure. The pilot always listens to music, Underwood posted. This time it was rapper Meek Mill of Dream Chasers Records.

Underwood had a message for Mill from the pilot.

“@MeekMill, he has asked me to relay, ‘From one Dream Chaser to another.’ “

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Top image: Nick Underwood, an aerospace engineer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shared photos on Twitter from the eye of Hurricane Ian on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. (Nick Underwood/NOAA/Twitter)

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