Examining Bird Strikes And Planes

The US Airways plane that crashed in the Hudson River had hit a bird and two engines were disabled.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. The FAA is reporting that all of the passengers on a U.S. Airways flight that crash-landed in the Hudson River today are off the plane and are safe. According to preliminary reports, that U.S. Airways jet collided with a flock of geese before it landed in New York's Hudson River. Bird collisions are one of the most common causes of airplane crashes. According to a committee that's been set up to study this problem, bird collisions have killed more than 200 people worldwide since 1988. And NPR's Richard Harris joins us to tell us more. Richard, that's awful lot of fatalities based on bird crashes. How frequent are these?

RICHARD HARRIS: It is. Well, those are - that's globally. Let's not forget. And many - and of course, millions and millions of people fly, so we have to put that in perspective. But in fact, for example, in 2007, there were 5,000 military aircraft that ran into birds and more than 7,000 commercial craft hit either birds or deer or other things wandering across the runway. And obviously, most of these do not lead to crashes, but a group called Bird Strike Committee U.S.A. estimates that birds do cost $600 million of damage every year on average to aircraft. And in fact, they said many incidents aren't recorded. I do want to add a historical note here, which is the first incident was reported in 1905 by the Wright brothers. So, it goes way back.

BLOCK: Yeah. We should mention that the reports of a flock of geese being responsible for bringing this U.S. Airways jet down are still unconfirmed. The FAA is investigating. But in general, what happens when a bird collides with an airplane? What can happen there?

HARRIS: Well, it can fly into many different parts of the plane and the most damaging place and dangerous place in many incidents is if it goes into the engine. Now, modern airplanes are designed to keep flying if they lose one engine. But if you get a flock of birds, you could clog up multiple engines and obviously, there's a certain point the plane just simply can't stand up. So that's - so it is potentially a very serious situation.

BLOCK: Yeah. And specific types of birds that are usually involved?

HARRIS: Well, waterfowl are very common. Geese, ducks, other birds like that, which tend to be near airports, which tend to be near the water. Seagulls also, and also birds of prey are a problem. Most of these incidents happen pretty close to takeoff or landing because most birds are pretty close to the ground, so it tends to be a problem around the airports.

BLOCK: What do airlines try to do to mitigate harm from birds or to keep birds away from airports in the first place?

HARRIS: Well, they first of all look around the airport and see what is it that's appealing to the birds that's there and if there's standing bodies of water that might attract waterfowl. They will try to make the airport less appealing to that. They - sometimes airlines actually modify their schedules if there are times of day when birds are a particular problem, dawn and dusk and so on. And they also installed soundmakers or some airports have trained dogs or other methods of these just to scare away birds. And in instances where there's - where none of that actually works well enough, they sometimes get permission to go and shoot the birds or find other ways of killing them to just get them out of the way.

BLOCK: And in terms of airplane construction itself, is there anything they can do to make engines, for example, less vulnerable to bird strikes?

HARRIS: That's a subject of study. They do throw frozen turkeys and so on into moving aircraft engines to try figure out ways of designing them. But really, there's - I think that's a fairly limited course of action. Really, the best thing is to avoid the collisions to begin with as much as you can.

BLOCK: OK. We've been talking about bird strikes, which are believed to be responsible for the downing of a U.S. Airways jet landed in New York's Hudson River this afternoon. Apparently, all the passengers on that plane are off the plane and are safe, including the crew. Thanks. NPR's Richard Harris, thanks very much.

HARRIS: My pleasure.

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US Airways River Rescue A 'Miracle On The Hudson'

The pilot of the Airbus A320, identified as C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, is being hailed as a hero. i i

hide captionThe pilot of the Airbus A320, identified as C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, is being hailed as a hero.

Safety Reliability Methods/AP
The pilot of the Airbus A320, identified as C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, is being hailed as a hero.

The pilot of the Airbus A320, identified as C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, is being hailed as a hero.

Safety Reliability Methods/AP
This image taken from WNBC-TV shows a US Airways plane that went down Thursday in the Hudson River. i i

hide captionThis image taken from WNBC-TV shows a US Airways plane that went down Thursday in the Hudson River in New York.

WNBC-TV, AP
This image taken from WNBC-TV shows a US Airways plane that went down Thursday in the Hudson River.

This image taken from WNBC-TV shows a US Airways plane that went down Thursday in the Hudson River in New York.

WNBC-TV, AP

New York Gov. David Paterson called it a "miracle on the Hudson."

Minutes after taking off from New York's La Guardia Airport on Thursday, US Airways Flight 1549 was forced to make an emergency landing in the icy waters of the Hudson River after the jet lost power. Emergency crews and rescue workers descended on the river and were able to get all 150 passengers and 5 crew members out safely.

The pilot of the Airbus A320, identified as C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, is being hailed as a hero.

The plane took off at 3:26 p.m. en route to Charlotte, N.C., and went down minutes later, according to a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman. It landed in the river near 48th Street in Manhattan.

National Air Traffic Controllers Union spokesman Doug Church said a US Airways pilot reported a "double bird strike" less than 60 seconds after takeoff. The pilot planned to make an emergency landing at the airport in Teterboro, N.J., but instead went safely into the Hudson.

The FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown, said the plane may have been hit by birds, but the cause of the crash has not yet been determined. The National Transportation Safety Board has already begun its investigation.

Passengers reported hearing bang or thud-like sounds from the engines shortly after takeoff. Almost immediately after the apparent failure of both engines, the pilot told passengers to "brace for impact."

Sullenberger, a former Air Force fighter pilot with more than 40 years of flying experience, was able to glide the plane into the water. Passengers reported that the emergency exits were opened quickly, and many people were able to scramble onto the wing and into life rafts. Others were able to walk directly onto ferries that had swarmed around the wreck and quickly became rescue boats. One ferry boat captain reportedly rescued at least 30 passengers.

A relatively small number of passengers were forced into the frigid water, but they too were quickly rescued.

Several passengers were taken to local hospitals, where some were treated for hypothermia.

At a late afternoon news conference, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the rescue effort by New York, New Jersey and federal officials and other rescuers "fast, brave work."

Bloomberg said he had spoken with Sullenberger, who told him he walked the length of the plane twice to make sure everyone got out safely before he exited the plane.

Sullenberger of Danville, Calif., also runs a safety consulting firm called Safety Reliability Methods. One safety expert said of the pilot, "If I was on that airplane, I'd want Sully at the flight deck in charge because he knows how to do it right."

Families and friends of those on the flight seeking information can call (800) 679-8215 or go to www.usa.att.com/traveler.

With reporting by Wendy Kaufman, Linton Weeks, Margot Adler and The Associated Press.

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