Second Plane Strikes Eagle in Sitka

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

A second aircraft sent to Sitka on Sunday to replace Alaska Airlines Flight 68 after it was grounded by an eagle strike, also hit an eagle on takeoff.

The Department of Transportation confirms that the substitute aircraft struck the bird on the runway, but was able to proceed normally with its flight to Seattle.

“To the best of my knowledge at this point there have been two eagles that have died as the result of collisions with large aircraft down there,” Roger Wetherell, chief communications officer for the DOT, said.

Wetherell says the second eagle was killed by the collision with the replacement aircraft, but was apparently not “ingested” by the plane’s jet engines. DOT crews subsequently recovered the bird’s carcass.

Wetherell says the DOT works with the US Department of Fish and Wildlife on on bird mitigation at all the state’s airports, but the large raptors can present a special problem:

“Eagles are not overly scared of the hazing tactics we use,” Wetherell said. “They’ll depart the area, but shortly thereafter they’ll return.”

“Perhaps it’s their territorial nature.”

Alaska Airlines Flight 68 was forced to abort takeoff shortly after 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning, when an eagle was sucked into its left engine. The abrupt change in the pitch of the engine was audible in Sitka; hikers as far away as Gavan Hill reported hearing the unusual change in the aircraft’s sound.

The affected engine automatically shut down and the Boeing 737-400 braked to a halt halfway down Sitka’s 6,500-foot runway. None of the plane’s 134 passengers or five crew members was injured in the mishap.

Eagle strikes are unusual at the Sitka airport – but not rare. Wetherell says a third bird was struck earlier in the year. It survived and was delivered to the care of the Raptor Rehabilitation Center.

Wetherell says preventing eagle strikes will continue to require exceptional vigilance on the part of the DOT in Sitka.

There really is a high concentration of eagles’ nests that our crews have found around the airport,” Wetherell said. “We’ve found eight nests near the airport, five of which are on the causeway, and then one which is just about on the airport property.”

Eagles are federally protected under the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940. Wetherell says the federal permits required to relocate the nests would be extraordinarily difficult to obtain.

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