Flight cancelled after bird strike in SJ

February 16, 2009 5:43:14 PM PST
Some United Airlines passengers on a flight leaving San Jose Monday are grateful they had an experienced pilot at the wheel because the plane hit a flock of seagulls just as it was about to take off.

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The 97 passengers aboard United Flight 1220 bound for Denver probably considered themselves lucky the birdstrike happened while their plane was still on the runway.

The jet was on the runway moving at 138 miles an hour, almost at takeoff speed, when it struck several seagulls.

"The United pilot cancelled the flight as soon as he detected something strange and safely taxied back to the terminal," said airport spokesman Dave Vossbrink Monday.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the right engine was damaged by the impact which bent some metal elements.

Metal could be heard scraping against metal as crews from United examined the engine after it was moved from the airfield.

The FAA control tower immediately alerted other arriving and departing aircraft of a large number of birds in the vicinity.

Mineta Airport has a bird mitigation program that includes firing blanks from a starter pistol to disperse them. The airport also takes other measures including keeping infields closely mowed to discourage nesting and other wildlife from being established there.

The situation worries some airline passengers.

"It makes me not want to fly. But, it's my job. I have to fly. I fly five days a week back and forth across the United States," says frequent flyer Garnett Thorpe.

"I think everything's being done that can be done. It's just kind of a random incident unfortunately that's starting to occur more often right now," said airline passenger Mike Bate.

Airport officials say that cannot substantiate any claims that birdstrikes are occuring more frequently. Officials in San Jose say they cannot remember the last time a flight was cancelled because of a bird strike.

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