Eagle hitches brief ride on tramway

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2002

A juvenile eagle picked the wrong wire to land on, when it flew into a Mount Roberts Tramway cable Sunday.

"It was really exciting, probably a once in a million event," said Kenny Kasselder, tramway operations and maintenance manager.

The tram car was about 20 feet from the bottom loading bay when the young eagle ran into the cable below it about 3:30 p.m., Kasselder said. The eagle rode the cable down, hanging almost upside down and unable to let go. The tram operator, Frank Clark, was about to hit the stop button to keep the eagle from being ground up in the wheel the cable runs through, when the eagle finally let go and fell into the loading bay.

"He just narrowly missed getting himself cut in half," Kasselder said.

Trapped inside the loading bay, the eagle began to panic, beating itself against the window. Kasselder got the waiting tram passengers to back up and give the bird space. Then, remembering that port officer Tim Ackerman has experience capturing wounded eagles, Kasselder ran to get him.

Ackerman was able to throw a blanket over the eagle and capture it. The crowd of about 50 people watching from outside the loading bay applauded.

Ackerman recognized the young eagle as one that had appeared that morning with a pair of adult eagles that nests above the port.

"He was snapping his beak around and his claws were already into the horse blanket," Ackerman said. "He's real feisty. Hopefully he'll stay that way."

The young eagle is still full of spunk, said Jaimie Sorg, operations manager for the Juneau Raptor Center, where the bird is recovering. The eagle is jarred, but uninjured.

"I don't think he's even going to bruise," Sorg said. "It's almost like if you step off something wrong and you don't really hurt yourself, but you're kind of stiff and ouchy in that area until you work it out."

Sorg will give the eagle a couple of weeks to recuperate while dining on fish, then release him near the Brotherhood Bridge.

"You know he's got wings. He can always get himself back to the tram," Sorg said.

Kristan Hutchison can be reached at khutchison@juneauempire.com.

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