Plane Hits A Flock Of Birds

March 6, 2010

in Airplane Stories

This past Sunday provided an up close and personal assessment of the airline industry, an industry that has seen considerable changes culminating with many major airlines going through bankruptcy.

My wife Terri and I boarded Northwest Indianapolis bound flight leaving Bradley International Airport Hartford, Connecticut. It should be noted that Northwest Airlines is suffering through a mechanics’ strike, which in a comedy of errors created this saga.

Our flight was delayed while the ground crew tried to open the door of the airplane on the tarmac. With no success, a mechanic was summoned. Some 40 minutes later, a mechanic arrived and successfully opened the door. The extended delay was no doubt an indirect result of the ongoing mechanics’ strike.

After the passengers settled in, the scheduled 11:25 AM flight finally departed according to the Associated Press at 12:27 PM. Directly after take off, the airplane experienced what felt like an impact, an unusual extended shudder, and the passengers (including my wife and I) heard a sound of metal shredding or scraping that lasted what seemed like minutes. Soon after, a distinctive electrical odor permeated the cabin. The concern shown on the face of the flight attendant was evident. What the pilot failed to tell us for the better part of an hour was that the airplane had hit a flock of birds (those flocking birds). The flight crew could not assess the extent of the damage to the plane. During this time, the plane flew in a slow right turn and it was evident that we were circling. Finally the flight attendant informed us that the airplane had experienced a “bird hit” and that they were returning to Bradley International, and that we were to prepare for a possible hard landing. The extended time in the air, she explained, was so that they could burn off fuel to reduce the likelihood of an explosion if there was a crash landing. The attendant had us brace against the seat in front or put our heads between our legs (I am assuming so that we might kiss our asses good-bye).

Though we did experience a hard hit, the pilot was successful in safely landing the plane at 1:35 PM (again according to the Associated Press). The plane was met by several emergency vehicles with flashing lights, as well as a television crew from one of the local news channels. The passengers all gave the crew a relieved round of applause and were eager to disembark. We were later to find out that this occurrence was well covered by the press, including USA Today, The Indianapolis Star and WRTV, among others.

Northwest provided only one airline counter staff who tirelessly re-booked all 39 passengers. The bulk of us were re-routed through Philadelphia on US Airways flight 1671 leaving Hartford at 3:00 PM. We were all required to retrieve our checked baggage and re-check them with US Air. This necessitated us to leave the secure area and once again go through security. To add insult to what was already an emotionally difficult time, FAA regulations require that each of us go through the extra security protocol, including the use of the wand as well as a pat down! With but 20 minutes left to catch this flight, there was but one security agent to accomplish this.

Terri and I were the last to board, but once again we settled into our seats. We talked a little with some of the other passengers of our Northwest flight that had also been rerouted with us. The other passengers onboard did not understand the giddy chatter amongst this fraternity of “survivors.” As we prepared for take off, the circulation in my hand was in serious jeopardy as my wife held tight to my hand. The take off seemed uneventful, but once again we started to bank right. Immediately my wife panicked and said that she knew something was wrong. Suspecting that the previous trauma was affecting her, I was about to calm her down when I was interrupted by the pilot over the intercom announcing that they had just experienced a complete loss of the onboard flight computers and that they were returning to Hartford for an emergency landing.

The landing was uneventful, but we were again met by the same emergency vehicles (sans press) who had escorted our Northwest flight in. This US Air flight, according to the pilot, was cancelled and we were to be re-routed (again). The passengers were delayed once again by a stubborn door or jet way for several minutes before we were able to disembark.

By this time, all the “fraternity” member’s faces were somewhat ashen white, our knees were weak and most of us headed to the closest bar. Some chose to call it quits, but my adrenaline was charging. I again re-booked, this time through Reagan International in Washington DC. This flight thankfully was uneventful. As we stared out, the airplane’s windows gazing on the lit silhouette of the Washington Monument and the Capitol building, my wife said that when things like this happen usually it’s a good time to reassess your life.

The good news was that we were in each “event” returned to Bradley International safely. The bad news is the concern about the state of the industry’s aircraft. It is suspect at the very least, and is constantly jeopardized by mechanic strikes and bankruptcy reorganization which puts financial pressures on the airlines. Had they already begun to cut corners on maintenance, we’ll never know. But one thing is for sure – it will probably be a long time before my wife and I decide to travel by air again.

By the way, as expected, our bags did not accompany us to Indianapolis, choosing to stay in Philadelphia. They eventually found their way to our front porch the next day.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Clare Duncan March 6, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Was it a flock of seagulls?


Kad March 14, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Clare, we can only hope. We can only hope that it was a time travelling flock….to unstain my mind.


Demotage March 7, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I'd just run, I'd run so far away

I'd just run, I'd run all night and day


Eutychus March 8, 2010 at 5:34 am

So, was this "no doubt" an "indirect result" of a mechanics' strike, or is it more like we'll "never know" whether they were cutting corners on maintenance?

I think you just had an unnerving and frustrating day of flying, and should leave it at that.


David March 8, 2010 at 5:39 am

Idk how much it had to do with the mechanics

I think it has more to do with the things that were born to fly and were there before any plane was even imagined….no matter the quality of the mechanic and their parts it wouldn't make a difference against a bird strike


Tony March 9, 2010 at 2:47 am

You burn off fuel to lower the weight of the aircraft…Not as you stated… To reduce the likelihood of and explosion. I smell BS.. No Trolly Dolly would say that!


Kad March 14, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Yeah, Tony. I wondered about that.

Now, EPA and FFA regs in these matters are something I know nothing about, but is there anything about limiting the rate at which they can dump fuel?

I'm pretty sure there is a long list of words FA's are not allowed to use, such as 'explosion', 'crash landing', or anything that might excite passengers while still flying at mach .3 -.5


Jane March 9, 2010 at 10:33 am

I checked. It IS BS.

Besides, there typically aren't a lot of flocks of birds at BDL, at least in the 4 years I flew in and out of there.


Adam March 10, 2010 at 9:37 am

Northwest Airlines didn't exist last Sunday. It is now Delta.


Kad March 14, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I thought Delta and Continental were merging.


rerere March 14, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Nope, Delta and Northwest


Kad March 14, 2010 at 4:35 pm

United-Continental is likely then.


david March 10, 2010 at 10:41 am

some of their planes still have the nw logo and i believe there are still a few nw check in stations, they haven't finished up the whole change yet, the merger is finalized but it takes them time to get the planes changed, and merge all other aspects


David March 14, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Delta and northwest merged

continental is thinking about merging with another airline, my mind has gone blank but I want to say jetblue


David March 14, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Sry I meant united


Kad March 14, 2010 at 3:36 pm

thanks David. I think you're right.


David March 14, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I'm not sure about the rate planes can dump fuel but I know that the fuel that is released is broken down and evaporates in the air/atmosphere and there is no to little consequences such as environmental issues


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