A Virgin Australia flight headed for Brisbane, Australia had to make an emergency landing Friday after hitting an eagle. The eagle was carrying a rabbit in its talons and collided with the plane’s landing gear, shorting after the passenger plane took off from Tullamarine.
The pilot of flight VA319 radioed the control tower with reports of engine problems. Virgin Australia said in a statement, “upon suspecting a bird strike, the pilot decided to return to Melbourne and the aircraft landed safely.” Melbourne Airport crews inspected the plane for damage and debris, temporarily shutting down the east-west runway. The Transport Safety Bureau is conducting an investigation. No one was hurt. All passengers safely deplaned after the emergency landing.
Bird is the Word: How Often Do Birds and Planes Collide?
While rabbit strikes are pretty rare, there have been other odd incidents including a US Air Force Gulfstream that hit a fish back in 2014. Bird strikes, though are more common than you might think. There were a whopping 16,069 bird strikes reported between 2006 and 2015 in Australia alone, according to the Transport Safety Bureau and in most cases, a high capacity domestic aircraft is involved. Significant damage to the aircraft only occurs in a fraction of cases, fortunately. Of the more than 16, 069 bird strikes, only 11 did real damage to the plane.
In one such instance, birds were actually sucked into the engine. AirAsia X Flight D7207 bound for Kuala Lumpur from the Gold Coast made an emergency landing in Brisbane this summer because the plane started uncontrollably shaking after taking off. Some passengers said they saw sparks coming from the engine mounts. Not surprisingly, upon landing, crews found two dead birds near where the plane had landed on the runway.
British Airline Pilots Association flight safety specialist Stephen Landells assures air passengers that bird strikes are usually not that dangerous and more often than not, damage is done to only one engine. Passenger aircraft can operate safely with just one engine so hitting a bird rarely leads to a crash. Landells points out that aircraft are “designed to withstand” these strikes and pilots undergo hours of training in preparation for eventualities such as bird strikes.
One of the most infamous examples of a near-crash was US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009. The pilot, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely landed the plane on the Hudson River in Manhattan, a feat called the “Miracle on the Hudson” since in this case, both engines were damaged after the plane collided with a flock of Canadian geese.
Captain Sullenberger was credited with saving the lives of 155 passengers and the ordeal was made into a Hollywood movie. The renowned pilot retired from US Airways after a 30 year career in 2010 and took a position as an Aviation and Safety Expert with CBS News.