Boeing Vs bear, drama on the runway: what happens when a jet hits a big animal

The Guru Blog - Things you didn't know

Talking about airplanes and wildlife, the first thing that comes to the mind are birdstrikes. Because, of course, as birds are the only wildlife inhabiting the skies, that’s what airplanes meet (and sometimes crash into) most frequently during take-offs, climb outs, approaches and landings.

That said, it is not infrequent for dogs, cats, rabbits and other small mammals to live on airports grounds or enter through breaches in the perimetral fences. That happens mostly at rural airports in Africa, South America or certain parts of Asia, where video surveillance of airports’ perimetral areas and fences maintenance are more frequently erratic. These animals do not represent a hazard to aircraft, because of their small size.

Mama bear was killed in the accident at Yakutat airport, but her cub was uninjured

But larger mammals are all a different matter. The latest story comes from Alaska, where on November 15, 2020 an Alaska Airlines (AS) Boeing 737-700 struck a brown bear after landing at Yakutat airport (YAK). None of passengers onboard reported injuries, but the aircraft was severely damaged and the mama bear was killed, while her 2-year old cub was uninjured. The jet, registration number N615AS, was arriving from Cordova, Alaska. The airport crew had inspected the runway ten minutes before but, as it was dark, they may have not spotted the bear, which was hit by the 737 as it was decelerating after landing.

Luckily, the animal “missed” the nose gear of the jet, but hit the right engine, causing damage to the inlet and cowling. According to Alaska’s Department of Transport, that was the first case of an aircraft struck by a bear. Planes previously have been reported to hit deer, geese, caribou and other animals in Alaska, like on July 28, 2017, when a caribou was hit and killed by the landing gear of a landing Boeing 737 at Deadhorse Airport (SCC).

Alaska Airlines’ 737 reported minor damage to the left engine cowling

Out of Alaska, a recent, noticeable ‘close encounter of the third kind’ happened in Islamabad (ISB), Pakistan, on January 20, 2020, as an Etihad Airways (EY) Airbus A320 landing from Abu Dhabi (AUH) hit and killed a wild boar.

But the strangest of all stories involving wildlife and commercial aviation arrives from Russia, where in June 2019 a curious brown bear decided he would take a tour of the (rather small) terminal at Petropavlosk airport (PKC), in the Kamchatka Peninsula: as a consequence, the building went into lockdown and all arrivals and departure delayed until armed animal rangers arrived to deal with the situation. So… what happened to the bear? Rangers were not able to find it, either inside the terminal or on the airport grounds.

Have you ever experienced a birdstrike while flying on a plane? Let the Guru know!

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