People who believe bad things come in threes may have second thoughts about flying with Lan Chile after the airline suffered a second rare accident on its Sydney-Santiago run.

The airline made international headlines last year when flaming pieces of a re-entering satellite came within five nautical miles (9.2km) of an Airbus A340 travelling from Santiago to Auckland and Sydney.

And last week, lightning punched a hole in the nose of a Lan Chile Airbus carrying almost 300 people as it approached Auckland from Sydney. A New Zealand report quoted a witness as saying the strike caused a hole "the size of a dinner plate", although the plane landed safely.

The plane was among four aircraft struck by lightning last Wednesday as New Zealand was hammered by almost 15,000 strikes in 24 hours. An Aerolineas Argentinas plane was also damaged and two Air New Zealand aircraft were struck but emerged unscathed.

Experts estimate each commercial airliner is struck by lightning once or twice a year. While it can sometimes leave a burn mark, it is unusual for lightning to punch through the skin of a modern jet.

This is because the charge travels through the plane's aluminium skin and the energy is usually dissipated sufficiently to prevent major problems.

Pilots usually try to fly around thunderstorms - mainly to avoid more damaging problems from hail or turbulence - but this is not always possible, and not all lightning is associated with storms.

In some cases, experts say, the aircraft itself can trigger a lightning discharge.