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Lightning Knocks Out Air Control Radar

For 84 minutes Saturday, air traffic controllers’ screens were blank at a radar center that tracks all aircraft over 400,000 square miles in parts of Florida, the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Lightning knocked out the main and backup power at the bunkerlike radar nerve center near the Miami International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

All planes headed into the area from throughout the United States and other countries were put into holding patterns and not allowed to enter the airspace, said FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen. Planes on the ground were not allowed to take off.

Seventy flights that were already in the airspace controlled by the center were also put into holding patterns when the power was knocked out at 4:35 p.m., Bergen said.

The controllers were in radio contact with the 70 planes. Relying on their memories and computers that had records of where the flights had been, the controllers helped the Miami control tower bring down some of the planes. Other flights were diverted.

“They are trained to do this even before they are trained to use the radar,” said Kim Christiansen, an air traffic supervisor.

About 300 flights were delayed by the power outage.

Travelers were never in danger, said Monte Belger, an FAA air traffic administrator.

The center controls an area that stretches from just south of Orlando to the Florida Straits, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.