Alaska Airlines jet kills brown bear at Yakutat’s airport

A partial image of a commercial air jet, with an image that is damaged
No one aboard the plane was injured when an Alaska Airlines jet struck and killed a brown bear at Yakutat’s airport on Saturday. The plane’s left engine cowl was damaged and remains in Yakutat for repairs. (Photo courtesy of RE Johnson)

An Alaska Airlines jet struck and killed a brown bear at Yakutat’s airport on Saturday evening.

The Boeing 737 was slowing down after landing when the flight crew noticed a sow and a cub crossing the runway, according to a statement from Alaska Airlines. The bears passed under the plane, and the captain felt an impact to its left side. He noticed the dead sow 20 feet off the center of the runway while taxiing. None of the crew or the six passengers were hurt, but the left engine covering of the plane was damaged. 

Alaska Department of Transportation spokesperson Sam Dapcevich said the airport maintenance crew had just finished plowing the runway 10 minutes before landing, and they didn’t see any signs of wildlife.

“They did, however, tell me that it was dark out at that time when they were clearing the runway, so it would have been difficult to see wildlife nearby,” he said.

The crew receives annual wildlife hazard training from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they’re trained to use vehicles and pyrotechnics to deter animals from the runway, according to Dapcevich. The airport is also fenced, but only partially.

Bear tracks in the snow
Bear tracks in the snow near Yakutat’s airport. (Photo courtesy of RE Johnson)

Dapcevich said these sorts of incidents are rare. He doesn’t know of any other instances of a commercial aircraft striking a bear in Alaska.

“I’ve heard of other incidents around the state of deer or birds. You may have even heard, once there was an where an eagle apparently dropped a salmon which hit an Alaska Airlines jet back in 1987,” he said. “So there are some incidents that have taken place, but this is the first time that I’ve ever heard of a bear.”

Maintenance crews removed the bear from the runway and stored the carcass in a warehouse until Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials could collect it. The bear’s two-year-old cub was physically unharmed, but is now without its mother.

Erin McKinstry is a Report for America corps member.