Plane returns to Charleston airport after hitting birds
What could have been a disaster turned out to be an inconvenience Tuesday when a plane flying out of Charleston International Airport hit a flock of birds and was forced to return to the runway.
A Delta regional jet from Charleston to New York was about 2 miles out of the airport and had reached 3,000 feet when it hit the flock, airport spokeswoman Becky Beaman said. The Shuttle America plane returned to the airport so mechanics could check it for engine damage.
The 63 passengers on Delta Flight 5972 were put on other planes to continue their trip, according to Shuttle American spokesman Peter Kowalchuk.
It’s not clear how long the passengers were delayed. The last Delta flight for New York left Charleston at 6 p.m.
The Embraer 170 left the airport at 2:34 p.m., and an unknown number of birds hit the right engine just after takeoff, Kowalchuk said. He could not confirm how far the plane had traveled before the bird strike.
“Passengers and crew were never in any danger,” Kowalchuk said.
The plane remained at the airport while mechanics checked for any signs of damage. A damage report was not available.
The 437th Airlift Wing’s Flight Safety Division monitors bird strikes at the airport and works to keep the runways clear of birds. A spokesman for the program could not be reached Tuesday.
The detailed requirements of the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Hazard Reduction Program are on the Joint Base Charleston website.
If the strike occurred at 3,000 feet and 2 miles from the airport, it’s likely they were migratory birds, and those strikes are harder to predict and control, according to Nathan Dias at the Cape Romain Bird Observatory.
The danger of bird strikes became a national concern after US Airways Capt. Chesley Sullenberger landed his a plane full of passengers onto the Hudson River after a bird strike disabled both engines on Jan. 15, 2009.
In April, USA Today ran a story saying, “Birds continue to collide with planes in alarming numbers,” after Vice President Joe Biden had to switch airplanes after a bird strike in California.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires reporting of every bird strike. Every time a plane hits a bird, the data is collected, down to what kind of bird if it can be determined. The feathers or blood samples are sent to the Smithsonian Institution for analysis to try to find out what kind of bird or bat it was.
At Charleston International, 10 military planes and seven commercial planes hit birds in 2011, according to the FAA. All suffered little to no damage, according to the FAA.
The last time a commercial plane at the Charleston airport had substantial damage from hitting a bird was when a US Airways plane hit a herring gull on Nov. 19, 2000, according to the FAA.
No commercial plane has ever been destroyed from hitting a bird at the airport since the FAA started keeping records.
A military plane suffered at least $500,000 damage when it hit a turkey vulture on March 11, 2009, according to the database.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.