A bird, a plane, then a 'bang' Fowl fouls engine, leads to U-turn

Flight headed to Orlando

November 25, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Kirsten Scharnberg contributed to this article.

Thanksgiving plans for the 103 travelers on Flight 2659 were foiled yesterday when a bird was sucked into an engine of the Orlando-bound US Airways Metrojet, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The Boeing 737 landed safely with one working engine at 11: 08 a.m., and relieved -- and unhurt -- passengers were off the aircraft and seeking alternate transportation to Florida within 10 minutes.

"It was scary," said Quinn McCreary, 17, a high school senior from Rockville who was traveling with her family to Key West for Thanksgiving. "I really thought we were going to die."

Sharon Perry, BWI spokeswoman, said planes rarely are forced into emergency landings because of birds -- about once every two or three years. Experts say birds collide with commercial aircraft an average of 1,799 times a year. But not many result in emergency landings, said Bonnie Wilson, a spokeswoman for Airports Council International -- North America.

David Castelveter, a US Airways spokesman, said he did not know what kind of bird the engine "ingested."

He said the jet, which holds 118 people, had 103 passengers and five crew members on board.

The plane took off from Baltimore at 10: 45 a.m. Five minutes later, when the plane was about 3,000 feet, passengers said, they heard a loud "bang" and the aircraft dipped on the right side.

Quinn's sister, Megan McCreary, 19, had a window seat on the right side of the plane and said she saw a "big, black object hit the side of the plane and then it was sucked into the engine."

Suzie Eckhart, 14, who also had a window seat on the right, said she thought a Canada goose hit the engine, after which the plane began "jerking around and vibrating and everything started to smell like smoke.

"Then things started to smell like fish just a little bit later," said Suzie, who was headed to Disney World with her family for Thanksgiving.

The pilot quickly stabilized the plane and told passengers they were having problems with an engine and that they were returning to BWI to check it out.

"Where we were sitting, we could see the flight attendants and I kept looking at them, trying to read their faces, but they were absolutely emotionless," said Quinn and Megan's mother, Gail McCreary, 50. "Everyone looked nervous, but there was no screaming or anything like that."

Shortly after, the plane landed and firetrucks and maintenance crews inspected it before allowing it to taxi to a gate for passengers to exit the aircraft.

Megan McCreary said that at this point, the pilot said, "It appears that we have ingested a bird."

"Then he came out and said, 'Happy Thanksgiving. You got your bird early,' and people started clapping," said McCreary, a sophomore at University of Maryland, College Park.

The pilot, Capt. Frank Kearney, said the bird was pulled into the jet's right engine, "tearing up the blades pretty good."

When the plane started to vibrate, he said, he shut down the engine and made a long sweeping turn back to the airport on the one good engine.

"These planes are well-equipped to fly on one engine," he said. "We practice landing like that a couple times a year. At no point were we in grave danger."

Wilson, the airport council's senior director of airport facilities and services, said the Federal Aviation Administration tests engines stringently.

"The FAA certifies aircraft and their engine components so that they can withstand a great deal of punishment," Wilson said.

She said the agency has been known to fire dead turkeys and chickens into engines to see how the equipment holds up.

Even so, passengers admitted they were nervous.

"I thought, 'Well, this might be the end,' " said Jane Vance, 82, who was flying to visit her son in Satellite Beach, Fla. "But I've always accepted fate, that what is to be, is to be. I just wonder now how they're going to get us all there. Sailboat, maybe?"

Castelveter said the passengers were rerouted to Orlando on five remaining direct flights from BWI or through other hubs.

Sitting in Pier D waiting to find out about flights, Wayne and Linda Barrett of Glen Burnie said they had enough to be thankful for, even if they didn't make it to Orlando for their Thanksgiving break.

"We're just grateful that we're here," said Linda Barrett, 51, a homemaker. "Thank God we made it."

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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