Pilot: Eagle was on suicide mission

Posted: Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SITKA - An eagle looked like it was on a "suicide mission" as it flew straight toward an Alaska Airlines jet just before it was sucked into the left engine as the aircraft was taking off in Sitka, the pilot said.

Provided By Bruce Silverman / The Associated Press
Provided By Bruce Silverman / The Associated Press

Steve Cleary told the Daily Sitka Sentinel he heard the bird hitting the engine Sunday morning as the Boeing 737-400 was roaring down the runway at 140 mph. Cleary said he also heard a scream from someone on board Seattle-bound Flight 68.

None of the 134 passengers or five crew members was hurt, but the mishap aborted the flight. A replacement plane later continued the flight.

Cleary said he has hit birds before, but the damage to the $7 million engine was the most extensive he'd seen.

"You could see through the engine," he said. "All the blades were destroyed."

After the bird strike, Cleary looked at the instruments, which showed things were normal, but he had enough runway left to abort the takeoff and did so. The flaps coming up and brakes screeching made a terrific sound.

According to Alaska Airlines, the jet braked to a stop about 3,000 feet from the end of the 6,500-foot runway, which ends at the water's edge. The plane then taxied back to the terminal with its single working engine. The airline said the bird collision automatically shut off the engine that was hit.

Passenger Tom Luzzi, who was returning to New Jersey, was reading a book when he saw a flash of light and felt the jet shift.

"I thought we were going in the water for sure," he said.

Passenger Dave Ressa, of San Jose, Calif., said the pilot announced the bird strike and told passengers everyone was going to be OK.

"There was nice applause from the passengers," Ressa said.

A complete inspection of the plane showed damage was limited to the affected engine, airline spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said Monday. A replacement engine was being flown from Seattle to Sitka and the plan was to replace the damaged one Monday night, according to Egan.

The airline is working with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration on an investigation, Egan said.

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