Plane Departing DCA Hits Birds, Lands at Dulles

by ARLnow.com February 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm 4,224 28 Comments

A Continental flight departing Reagan National Airport made an emergency landing at Dulles after the pilot reported hitting birds on takeoff this morning.

According to a recording of air traffic control radio, the pilot of the 737 reported a left engine failure as a result of the bird strike. The plane landed safely at Dulles just before 8:00 a.m.

The bird strike caused a bit of a scare on the ground. D.C. Fire and EMS crews near the Potomac River were put on alert after reports came in of an aircraft in distress. The situation recalled the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson” — when pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed a US Airways jet on the Hudson River after both engines were disabled by a flock of birds.

Bird strikes are actually not uncommon at Reagan National.

Despite the use of systems designed to scare birds away from the runways and alert air traffic controllers to their presence, a total of 24 bird-related incidents were reported at Reagan National last year, according to an FAA database. Of those incidents, 21 were reported as birds striking an aircraft and 3 were birds simply found injured on or near runways. Five incidents involved large birds, which are more likely to cause damage to an aircraft fuselage or engine.

Among the incidents:

  • On May 1, 2010, a US Airways 737 ingested a large vulture into its #1 engine on approach. No damage was reported and the plane landed safely.
  • On July 28, a United Airlines Airbus 319 struck a large bird on takeoff. The flight continued on to Chicago, where bird remains were then cleaned off the plane’s nose. No damage was reported.
  • On August 8, a regional jet struck a large osprey on takeoff. Minor damage to the landing gear door was reported, but the plane continued on to Albany, N.Y.
  • On October 7, an injured bald eagle was found near a runway. Crews retrieved the bird and brought it to an animal hospital. No bird strike was reported.

Although a “double bird strike” like the one that brought down Sullenberger’s plane is exceedingly rare, it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility for any aircraft, including at Reagan National.

Although airline officials and aviation regulators don’t like discussing the possibility, one pilot we spoke to said that should an airliner lose all power on takeoff from DCA as a result of bird strikes, the pilot may look for a clear stretch of river or a wide-open field — like a golf course — in which to attempt a crash landing.

  • BrownFlipFlops

    And this, people who feed birds at Gravely Point Park, is the reason you shouldn’t do it. They’re not there just because of the baggies of bread you provide, but you’re sure not helping.

    • BrownFlipFlops

      Oops. GraveLLy Point Park.

      You STILL shouldn’t feed birds there.

    • OX4

      I like to sit there and throw Cheetos at the plane spotters. They’re so cute when they get all excited and fight for the scraps.

      • borf

        Yeah, that’s funny until one of those plane-spotters gets sucked into an engine. Especially the fat ones.

        • CW

          Maybe the plane spotters feed the birds on purpose so they can increase their chances of seeing an engine failure?

          • borf

            Maybe they’re terrorists!

            Or maybe the birds are.

  • The Dope of South Arlington

    Fowl terrorists.

  • Sheriff Gonna Getcha

    sully didnt even need to land on the river. he had plenty of time to get back to LGA and land but he is the attention seeking type adn thus selfishly made it seem super dramatic and “land on a river”

    • AllenB

      Total BS, but thanks for playing.

    • Amaryllis

      Huh? They guy had no engines. You can’t fly a plane very far without at least ONE. He landed in the river because he was out of other options. A combination of skill and luck and he made it. Had he tried to go on the plane would have crashed, and might have crashed into a neighborhood killing folks on the ground.

    • Steve?

    • Overgrown Bush

      You have got to be kidding…

    • borf

      You’re right, SGG! He was merely an experienced, highly trained pilot who as actually there, but you’re some guy on the internet, so you know alot more!

  • Jason S.

    I feel terrible for the people who had to leave Arlington and were forced to end up in Loudoun County. They’ll never find good food while waiting to get out of flyover country.

    • Overgrown Bush

      Dulles has a great museum right next door with a Space Shuttle, SR171, Concorde, and many other aviation items. Can’t speak on the food…

    • LyonSteve

      I feel worse for these people:


      Having to ride supper shuttle! Probably more dangerous than attempting to land at DCA.

    • OX4

      I can only imagine the horror of having to choose between Applebee’s and Olive Garden. I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear reports of cannibalism.

  • JerrySeinfeld
  • Arlwhenever

    There’s a constant barrage of simulated shotgun bursts off the north end of the main runway to scare off the non-migrating fowl — must have caught some hearing impaired feathered friends.

    Much closer to home, I’ve often wondered what would have happened to Air Florida Flight 90 back in the day if it had managed to travel a couple hundred more feet, skimming onto the ice and into the Potomac ala flight Sully, instead of cartwheeling straight down after the plane’s tail slapped down on the north lane of the first span of the 14th Street Bridge. I suspect most, in not all, of the passengers would have survived.

    • Westover

      Control was lost due to the ice/lack of de-iceing I thought? In that case there might not have been anything that could have been done different even if it had not hit the bridge. The runways at DCA are so short, had Flt 90 taken off from Dulles, it would have hit the runway. And Howard Stern would have had a job at DC101 for a much longer time.

  • CadeTyler

    This was no accident. That duck was heard to squawk “Allah Quackbar” as he deliberately flew into the engine.

    • borf

      Not bad. (Should be ALLAHU Quackbar though).

  • birdsfly

    why can’t the engines have a guard that prevents the birds from being sucked into the engine. it is our job to prevent the strikes by modifying aircraft. after all birds fly and live near water. why did we build airports on the waters edge and then complain about the birds being a problem.

    • Lalaland

      Maybe you’re joking but if you’re asking a serious question then there’s a good answer.

      The problem with protecting the engines with a grate or other feature is that the planes are still moving at high speed when they strike the bird. The bird could just collapse the grate into the engine, creating more damage than a bird alone. Back when DCA and LaGuardia were built, the primary means for landing and taking off occurred on water runways, so airports had to be built on water. On top of that, aircraft were much slower, so avoiding a bird strike would have been easier.

      • RobM

        Informative response! On top of that, the guard would almost certainly cause horrific accidents by getting sucked into the engine itself.

  • dsel

    The terrorists are the Virginia leaders who thought setting up a bird sanctuary a few feet from a runway would be a good blend of open space use.

  • gringo

    There are ospreys around here? Sweet.

  • Ex-Airline

    Birdsfly: Because a guard strong enough to be of any use would be too heavy to carry on an airplane. In addition, if the guard broke on impact with a big enough bird, the fragments of the guard would go into the engine which defeats the purpose of the guard.

    Hitting a bird with an airplane is like hitting a deer/moose with a car, depending on the speed and the size of the bird. It’s expensive, messy and occasionally fatal to both bird and the people on the aircraft.


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