It has been said that "Birds of a feather flock together" — a proverb that proved to be all too true for U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which was forced to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River in January 2009 after both engines were knocked out by geese.
Thankfully, this story had a happy ending, but the "bird strike" was certainly not the first of its kind. Also referred to as BASH (Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard), these airborne showdowns involve a flying animal (typically a bird or bat), and man-made vehicles such as airplanes, helicopters and space shuttles. Though fatalities as a result are very rare, the financial damage can be staggering, with an annual price tag reaching an estimated $600 million in the United States, and up to $1.2 billion worldwide.
Take a look at the top 10 bird strike stories throughout the history of aviation, from near misses to direct hits, and the aftermath that followed.
1: Eastern Airline Flight 375
Oct. 4, 1960, marked the most significant amount of casualties as a result of a bird strike. An Eastern Airline flight en route to Boston collided with a flock of common starlings during takeoff, disabling all four engines. The plane crashed just moments later in the Boston harbor, and of the 72 passengers onboard, only 10 survived.
The tragic incident led to the Federal Aviation Administration establishing minimum bird-ingestion standards for jet engines. By the 1970s, Sea-Tac became the first airport in the United States to develop an eco-friendly program to help prevent bird strikes, and since then, multiple airports have also developed bird strike-control programs, including the use of border collies to shoo wildlife.
2: U.S. Air Force
The United States Armed Forces has experienced its own share of bird strike incidents; the most devastating took place in September 1995, when a U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry ingested a number of Canadian geese during takeoff. The plane lost power to both port side engines and crashed shortly after in a heavily wooded area, taking the lives of all 24 crew members onboard.
3: Cal Rodgers Practice Flight
The first fatality as a result of bird strike occurred in 1912 when Cal Rodgers, the first civilian to purchase a Wright Flyer, collided with a flock of gulls while making a test flight along the shoreline of Southern California. The incident jammed his control cables, causing him to crash into the Pacific Ocean near Long Beach. He quickly succumbed in the water due to massive bodily injuries, including a broken neck.
4: U.S. Airways Flight 1549
The most recent bird strike incident was front-page news across the country, with the dramatic emergency landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. Just moments after takeoff, the commercial flight was forced to abort its original route from LaGuardia Airport, in New York, to Charlotte, N.C., after running into a flock of geese. Guided by veteran pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the plane touched down in the Hudson just west of Midtown and, miraculously, all 150 passengers and five crew members were evacuated safely and rescued.
5: Ryanair Flight 4102
A Ryanair Boeing 737 flight from Frankfurt to Rome experienced multiple bird strikes that knocked both engines out of commission, forcing an emergency landing at Ciampino Airport. The left landing gear collapsed during touchdown, causing the airplane to veer off the runway for a brief period until the crew could regain control. Everyone onboard used emergency exits to evacuate, and though three passengers and two crew members experienced injuries, none were life-threatening.
6: Virgin America Flight 837
The 2007 bird strikes continued into the fall, when a Virgin America flight was also forced to make an emergency landing at San Francisco International Airport. While the incident also occurred without injury, it drew higher attention, as the plane involved was one branded "Air Colbert," named after Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central.
7: Delta Airlines Flight
During the summer of 2007, another B-767 experienced the impact of a bird strike firsthand, when a Delta flight in Italy ingested yellow-legged gulls into both engines. The plane returned to Rome safely, but the damage was so significant that both engines needed to be replaced before the flight could continue.
8: United Airlines Flight 843
The bird strikes continued in the spring of 2007, when a United Airlines plane suffered a double bird strike to both engines during takeoff from Chicago O'Hare International Airport on a flight en route to Brazil. While one of the engines caught fire, the other yielded bird remains, confirming the source of the collision, which thankfully occurred without injury to the crew or passengers.
9: Thomsonfly Flight 4263
2007 marked a busy year for noteworthy bird strikes. One of the first of several incidents that occurred took place April 29, when a Thomsonfly Boeing 757 en route from the United Kingdom to Spain ingested a heron in the starboard engine. The plane was able to safely land back at Manchester Airport shortly after, and the collision was also captured on video by a plane spotter; it was later made available to the public and widely viewed online.
10: Wright Brothers Practice Flight
The first reported bird strike was recorded in 1905 by none other than aviation pioneer Orville Wright. According to his diaries, Orville was conducting a practice flight that lasted a little under five minutes total, during which time he covered 4,751 meters and completed four circles. During two of these laps, he used his aircraft to chase a flock of birds, killing one, which landed on the top surface of the plane until he was able to shake it off with a sharp turn.