Planes and birds can be deadly combination

Posted: Tuesday, August 29, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Thousands of bird-airplane collisions occur every year and usually they are routine. But sometimes they can be deadly -- if birds are sucked into a plane's engine.

Authorities in Los Angeles initially blamed the forced emergency landing of a KLM Royal Dutch airliner Sunday on a bird, but investigators said Monday they had found no evidence supporting that theory. There were no injuries in the incident even though pieces of the plane as large as a refrigerator fell on a beach.

Experts say the odds of an individual plane hitting a bird are fairly low, but because of the large number of planes and birds flying, some incidents are bound to occur.

In 1995, an Air Force AWACS radar plane crashed in Alaska, killing 24 crewmen, after geese were sucked into one of the plane's engines. It plunged to the ground just 43 seconds after takeoff.

Listed as contributing factors to the accident were the base's failure to keep geese off the runway infield and an air traffic controller's failure to tell the jet's crew he spotted geese on the field before takeoff.

That same year, a small jet carrying then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, his wife and two bodyguards ran off a runway in northern Michigan after hitting four geese. No one aboard the plane was injured.

A study by the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization recorded an average of 5,400 reports of bird strikes each year between 1984 and 1989.

The first recorded bird-related plane accident occurred in 1911 when Calbraith Perry Rodgers -- the first person to fly across the country -- died when a gull became entangled in the controls of his Wright Brothers biplane, causing it to crash.

The deadliest U.S. accident blamed on birds came Oct. 4, 1960, when an Eastern Airlines Lockheed Electra struck a flock of starlings and crashed into Boston Harbor, killing 62 people.

A pelican or crane was blamed for a 1987 accident involving an Air Force B-1B bomber in Colorado. The impact of the bird ruptured the plane's hydraulic system, causing loss of control.

Birds are a big problem around airports because they often find worms on the pavement and other food on nearby farmland and even garbage dumps nearby.

For example, John F. Kennedy International Airport is near New York's Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, which has gulls that have been involved in more than half the 300 bird strikes the airport reports each year.

To find what might make airports unattractive to birds, the Federal Aviation Administration has conducted experiments using model airplanes, recorded sounds of birds in distress, cars equipped with loudspeakers, fireworks, blank gunshots, flashing lights, lasers and chemical repellents.

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