The breaking news out of New York City is that an Airbus has been brought down by Canada geese. But what if it was something else? Of course, it wasn’t, but we have to look at all the angles. (Updated with recent bird collision data, at the end.)
A flock of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) – please note, not “Canadian” geese as some news people are saying – has apparently hit or were hit by an Airways jet, an Airbus A320. The plane then had to be ditched in the Hudson River, New York City, and sunk below the waterline.
The flight was US Airways flight 1549, which took off at 3:26 p.m. on January 15, 2009, from LaGuardia, headed for Charlotte, N.C.
Reportedly 155 people are on board. New York City firefighters, federal transportation officials and an armada of boats were responding to the accident. It was not immediately clear if there were injuries, but recent news bulletins state everyone on board is safe.
Collisions with Giant Birds have been a background topic of interest to cryptozoologists involved in Thunderbird research.
The files contain some intriguing cases, for example:
(1) 1947, a pilot reports a near-collision over Arizona, bird said to have a wingspan of over 30 feet (9 meters);
(2) May 1961, a New York businessman reports his Piper Cub plane was followed by a bird that was so large he thought it was another small airplane, over the Hudson Valley, Hudson River, New York, and
(3) November 1962, a Maryland airplane crash was blamed on a collision with a giant bird, as reported by author Jack Pearl in 1963.
Mark A. Hall writes of the above in his Thunderbirds book.
On a mundane level, however, each year, planes collide birds in mid-air causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. This event is, no doubt, the case with this story, if the eyewitness accounts confirm the initial sightings of the geese.
For the cryptozoological point of view of the developing news, see Mark A. Hall’s Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds, and Jerome Clark’s and my Creatures of the Other Edge, concerning the history of cryptid large birds.
CNN has published an article, “Biologist: Birds competing for airspace with planes” with factoids of some interest. Here are parts of this selection.
The problem of planes hitting birds comes down to a key fact: “We’re competing for airspace,” says Richard Dolbeer, a biologist who spent 20 years studying the problem at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Populations of large birds have increased dramatically since the 1970s, when environmental regulations were instituted in the United States. Birds have become more accustomed to living in urban environments near airports and the number of airline flights has risen sharply, according to Dolbeer.
Dolbeer, who retired in September 2008 and is now a consultant on the issue, spoke with CNN hours after a US Airways plane crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York after an apparent bird strike. He retired as National Coordinator for the Airport Wildlife Hazards Program and was chairperson of Bird Strike Committee-USA from 1997-2008.
CNN: How big a problem are bird strikes?
Dolbeer: Every year, approximately 7,000 to 8,000 bird strikes are reported to the Federal Aviation Administration primarily by commercial airlines nationwide. The reporting is a voluntary system. It’s not mandatory, so we know that not all of the bird strikes are being reported. We estimate that as much as 80 percent of the strikes are not reported.
It’s a fairly common occurrence to have bird strikes, but to have bird strikes that would disable both engines on an aircraft is fortunately a rare event.
CNN: What are some of the most serious instances of bird strikes?
Dolbeer: In 1995, at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, a Boeing 707, a wide-bodied jet adapted to military use as a surveillance plane, ingested Canada geese into two of four engines. It crashed a mile away and killed 24 airmen.
In Rome, Italy, in November, a Boeing 737, which is very similar to the Airbus 320, flew through a flock of starlings and both engines were disabled. The pilot was able to land the plane on the runway, but it collapsed the landing gear and did extensive damage to the aircraft. There were a few injuries, but no one was killed.
Last March in Oklahoma City, a business jet was taking off and it struck a flock of white pelicans, which is another species which is increasing. It crashed into a wood lot and killed all five businesspeople aboard.
The root of the problem right now is that because of the very successful wildlife conservation programs in North America since the 1970s, we’ve seen a tremendous resurgence of many wildlife species, particularly large bird species — species that weigh over 4 pounds, including Canada geese, snow geese, bald eagles, great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, turkey vultures and black vultures.
In fact, of the 36 species of birds in North America that weigh over 4 pounds, 24 of those have shown population increases, nine have shown stable populations and only one has shown a decline in the last 30 years. The Canada goose population in the United States — the resident Canada geese, not the migrant birds from Canada — has increased from 1 million birds in 1990 to about 3.9 million in 2008.
In addition to these populations increasing, they’ve also adapted to urban environments. They’re not afraid to associate with people. Traffic doesn’t bother them, aircraft don’t bother them. So they’re more likely to be seen near airports.
Another important factor is modern turbofan aircraft like the Airbus 320. Their engines are much quieter than older aircraft. And almost all the noise comes out of the back of the engine. Birds are less able to hear or see modern aircraft. There are more airplanes in the sky, more birds in the sky and this is where the conflict comes in.
The number of strikes being reported is definitely increasing. In 1990, the FAA had approximately 1,750 strikes reported. And in 2007, the last year we have data, we had 7,600.
Some of that may be due to a little better reporting, but there are also more aircraft flying today.
About bird strikes
(CNN) — Information on bird strikes by aircraft, according to the Web
site of Bird Strike Committee.
• Since 1975, five large jetliners have had major accidents in which bird strikes played a role.
• The most deadly civil crash was at Boston Logan Airport in 1960, when 62 people were killed after a strike. In that crash, a flock of starlings was ingested by all four plane engines. The plane fell into Boston Harbor.
• More than 82,000 bird strikes were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration from 1990-2007.
• The committee estimates that number is 20 percent of the strikes that actually happened.
• Most bird strikes happen during takeoff and landing.
• The frequency of the strikes has increased since the 1970s because of conservation efforts and quieter aircraft.
• A bird striking a single engine is generally not enough to cause a jetliner to crash. Because birds tend to travel in flocks, however, there is the potential for strikes of multiple engines.
• The FAA estimates bird strikes cost U.S. airlines more than $500 million annually.
• Commercial aircraft are certified to be able to withstand engine strikes by single birds up to four pounds.
• Thirty-six bird species in North America weigh more than four pounds — many traveling in flocks.
• In large numbers, smaller birds, including starlings, gulls and mourning doves, have caused crashes.
• The Wright brothers recorded the first known bird strike two years
after their maiden flight. “Chased flock of birds for two rounds and killed one,” Orville Wright wrote.