A transformer fire in Queens sent an eerie blue light flooding the nighttime sky as electricity flickered in homes and an airport was plunged into darkness Thursday.
Con Edison says a brief electrical fire involving transformers broke out at the substation on 20th Avenue and 32nd Street in Astoria, causing a transmission dip in the area.
The fire lit the sky so brightly that it briefly appeared to be daytime in neighborhoods like Astoria and Woodside, residents reported. Smoke arose from the source of the blue light, visible from as far as Manhattan.
Con Edison is investigating the cause of the transformer fire. Utility spokesman Bob McGee says no one was hurt.
"It did create a spectacular effect on the sky, and certainly caused a lot of concern," he told News 4, calling it an "abnormal event."
"The electrical fault on the 138,000 volt equipment caused a sustained electrical arc flash that was visible across a wide area," he added early Friday in a statement. "The affected equipment was isolated to a single section within the substation."
Though small, the fire had a large impact citywide. LaGuardia Airport went dark, Rikers Island jail was on backup generators, and the 7 subway line saw major delays in both directions, according to Con Edison.
NYPD officials on scene said it appeared to simply be equipment malfunction, and there was no sign of any sort of nefarious interference. There was no visible damage inside the Con Edison plant.
Meanwhile, people flooded the streets in Queens and swarmed social media to try to figure out the source of the mysterious blue-green glow in the sky.
"I was thinking this is the end of the world, like something's gonna happen," said Tarek Kherifi in Astoria.
"The electricity went off, that was obvious. But the light in the sky, that was very intense," said Berklis Kanaris. "The combination made me wonder what it was."
One boy told News 4 he thought it was an UFO.
People in Queens reported the electricity briefly flickering off in their homes, and LaGuardia Airport saw a total blackout at one point. A News 4 staffer picking up his daughter in Terminal A said the lights started to flicker, then turned off completely while the emergency lights stayed on.
The FAA initially issued a ground stop at LaGuardia but power was largely restored by 11 p.m. and the airport was resuming normal operations. Travelers were still asked to check with their carriers for updated flight information.
Firefighters responding to the ConEd fire saw it in the sky before they got there, radio transmissions on Broadcastify show.
"There's a high-voltage emergency going on the ConEd plant, heading that way now," one firefighter said. "Can we have a representative from ConEd meet us out on 20th Avenue? It just seems like whatever it was just shut down. We'll meet them at the main gate."
"Yeah, whatever was arcing the skyline, it turned off, it seems like," he continued. "Just advise Battalion 49, we have a visible fire in the ConEd plant. We're going to enter off of 31st Street."
A pilot near JFK Airport also described the stunning scene when the transformer exploded, dispatch recordings receal.
"Eleven o'clock, it looks like a massive fire," he's heard saying in a dispatch with the JFK tower.
"JetBlue 1186, you see that light out there? You know what that is?" one voice is heard in the tower transmissions.
"Yes sir, and no, we do not, not at all, sorry," another voice responds. "We see colors like that off the clouds."
In another tower transmission, a voice is heard saying, "Delta 1197 Heavy, let me know if you're able to see what that light is out there."
The Delta pilot said, "It's on the ground lighting up the sky."
The tower responded, "You don't know what it is?"
"Negative," the pilot said. "Blue-green color, does not look like typical flames."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said state police and the Public Service Commission were ready to support local authorities in the investigation.
It was the second major incident involving Con Edison in the last six months. In July, a steam pipe explosion spewed asbestos-laden vapor into the air in the Flatiron District, driving hundreds of people from their homes and businesses.
ConEd said it had restored all major transmission lines associated with the event and was in the process of investigating the cause of the failure.