Jackie Dunham , CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, October 7, 2016 9:20AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, October 7, 2016 8:26PM EDT
A flight crew with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fearlessly flew a research plane into the eye of the storm Friday morning to collect data on Hurricane Matthew. Capt. Tim Gallagher filmed the terrifying experience in a minute-and-a-half-long video posted to the NOAA’s Facebook page. The crew flew a Lockheed WP-3D Orion “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft right into the eye of Hurricane Matthew when it was still a designated category four storm in an effort to track the path of the deadly hurricane.
The video begins with the flight crew calmly manoeuvering the plane as powerful winds and rain thrash against the windows. The footage is bumpy and unsteady indicating the extreme turbulence during the journey. As the aircraft passes through the eyewall and into the calm of the eye of the storm, the clouds part and there is less turbulence. The crew filmed the eerily still centre of the storm through the plane’s side windows.
For those inside the plane, the high-stakes mission can be a thrill, according to an U.S. Air Force lieutenant who has been chasing hurricanes for four years.
The purpose of such missions is to pinpoint the exact longitude and latitude of the hurricane’s eye. That information is then passed along to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, which tracks the storm and issues public safety alerts.“Most of the time it’s usually a huge adrenaline rush as you’re ready to go through the storm. Especially as you’re closing in on what would be the max winds as you’re going through,” Leesa Froelich, a first lieutenant with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, more commonly known as the Hurricane Hunters, told CTV News Channel on Friday.
Froelich estimates that she’s flown into the eyes of 20 to 30 hurricanes throughout her career, and she says Hurricane Matthew was among the most intense.
“Matthew was different in that it was so large, and it is still very, very large. The winds go out quite a way from the centre, so it was a turbulent flight,” she said.
And while the flight might seem harrowing, Froelich said she knows she’s in good hands.
“I’ve had a number of flights into these storms and I’ve never had anything seriously go wrong. And even if something did go wrong, our pilots are very well trained,” she said.
The NOAA video’s has received more than 100,000 views on Facebook with many commenters thanking the crew for their bravery. The NOAA advised anyone impacted by the storm to regularly check for updates on the hurricane and to follow the guidance of their local authorities.
Hurricane Matthew’s death toll has reached more than 280 after devastating Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. The category three storm is expected to impact Florida on Friday.