DIRECT HIT: In this 2003 image, a crane collided head-on with a Blackhawk helicopter. Image: COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
The heroics of US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his Flight 1549 crew in ditching their bird-strike disabled Airbus A320 aircraft on in the Hudson River near New York Citybetween Manhattan and New Jersey are now legendary. But as the Federation Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulatory bodies examine the successful water landing and the role that a flock of Canadian geese played in shutting down both of the ill-fated jet's engines, a key question remains: Could the incident have been prevented?
"The windscreen was filled with birds," Sullenberger testified today before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's aviation subcommittee during a hearing on air safety, including whether pilots and flight attendants are properly trained to deal with such emergencies. (A summary of the panel's goals for the hearing can be read here.) "We saw them just a matter of seconds before impact."
On January 15, a gaggle of Canadian geese flew into Flight 1549's engines about 2,700 feet (823 800 meters) in the air just 90 seconds after the plane took off from New York City's LaGuardia Airport (en route to North Carolina). After the impact, Sullenberger said that he "began to feel abnormally rough vibrations from both engines" and soon after noticed "a burnt bird smell."
"I knew immediately," he said, "the situation was dire."
Unfortunately, wildlife is attracted to the relatively undisturbed buffer zones-—often wetlands with good nesting areas-—cleared between airports and residential areas, making overpopulation a problem for airports. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, there were 82,057 reported bird strikes between 1999 and 2007 (with 7,439 in 2007 alone). But the agency said that only about 20 percent of bird strikes against with civilian aircraft are actually reported.
Bird strikes are potentially deadly. Though all 155 passengers and crew on Flight 1549 survived, those on board a helicopter that crashed near Morgan City, La., en route to an oil platform on January 4 were not as fortunate. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported yesterday that investigators had found evidence that birds were involved in that incident in which eight of nine people aboard were killed.