W-town Flight Aborted by Bird Strike
Gull strike stalls Watertown flight
By Joe O’Sullivan
Public Opinion Staff Writer
A nearly-full commercial flight leaving the Watertown Regional- Airport for Minneapolis was grounded Friday morning after striking birds during takeoff.
The flight, a Delta connection scheduled for 7:05 a.m., throttled down immediately and never left the ground. No one was reported injured, according to Erick Dahl, airport manager.
Neal Mack, a passenger who could see the plane’s right-side propeller engine through the window, said he saw birds while the aircraft was taxiing and later as it accelerated.
“As I was looking to the right, a couple of them got (cut) through the engine,” Mack said. “There were seagulls impaled on the wing.”
Dahl said the pilots saw the flock as they were accelerating and slowed down before they hit.
After returning to the terminal and deplaning, Mack and another passenger walked to the front of the plane.
“Up around the cockpit it almost looked like they’d hit a deer, tons of blood splattered,” he said, adding animal remains could also be seen on the right engine.
Dahl said a mix of Herring and Franklin gulls caused the incident. It was dark outside and the birds went undetected by the crew beforehand, according to Dahl.
“Even the pilots didn’t notice it,” he said. “They were on takeoff for (the runway), and they didn’t notice any birds on the taxi out there.”
The plane was carrying 30 passengers, according to Delta Airlines spokesperson Kristin Baur. The airline arranged for transportation to Minneapolis and Sioux Falls so passengers could reach connecting flights, Baur said. A few remained in Watertown to take a flight later Friday or Saturday, she said.
A maintenance crew was flown in from Minneapolis to inspect the plane, a 34-passenger Saab 340, according to Dahl. No other flights were affected by the incident, he said. The crew was still working on the plane and had its right engine covers open at 12:45 p.m.
Dahl said it is unlikely the plane will fly out with passengers.
“They’ll ferry it into Minneapolis, do a further inspection,” he said.
Bird strikes are a concern for the airport because it is nestled between Lakes Kampeska and Pelican, according to Dahl, who added the nearby city landfill is another favorite spot for birds.
A US Airways flight ditched in the Hudson River in New York City in January after a double-bird strike, where both its engines were damaged. A similar fate brought down a corporate jet shortly after takeoff in Watertown in June 1975. No fatalities were reported in either incident.
The last time a bird strike happened in Watertown was July 2008, according to Dahl, who said all occurrences are reported to the Federal Aviation Administration. A call seeking comment to the FAA was not returned by press time.
The aborted flight did not rattle Mack, who rescheduled for a later flight out of Watertown.
“It wasn’t really scary-scary, but it kind of made you think a little bit,” he said. “If it happened 10 seconds later, dive and rescue (teams) would be looking for us in Kampeska somewhere.”
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