PARIS — Socialist Francois Hollande took over as France’s president Tuesday and jetted off to Berlin hours later — only to have his plane struck by lightning. No one was hurt.
It was a startling beginning for a man who promised to be a more “normal” president, and less flashy than his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who was ousted by voters after a single term for his handling of a stagnant economy plagued by joblessness.
After a succession of rain-drenched and pomp-filled ceremonial inauguration events, Hollande took off in a Falcon 7X aircraft for Berlin. The plane was hit by lightning shortly afterward, and returned to the Villacoublay air base outside Paris as a precaution for inspection, Defence Ministry spokesman Gerard Gachet said.
Defence officials say the president and his entourage were transferred to another aircraft, a Falcon 900, and left shortly thereafter. That made Hollande about an hour and a half late for his first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Hollande was following a postwar custom for new French leaders to reach out to their German counterparts to solidify European unity. Right before leaving for Berlin, Hollande named a moderate, German-friendly member of his Socialist party, Jean-Marc Ayrault, as his prime minster.