Local News

Bird strike might have blown out engine in RDU flight

Posted August 9, 2009
Updated August 10, 2009

— A bird strike shortly after take-off might have caused an engine malfunction that forced a pilot to make an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport Sunday morning, a Northwest Airlines spokeswoman said.

Shortly after take-off at 8:40 a.m., those on board Flight 1546 to Minneapolis heard a loud boom when an engine blew out, RDU spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said. The captain shut down the left engine and landed safely at RDU at 9:02 a.m., Northwest Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Parker said.

"Whoever was piloting was doing a hell of a job," said Dan Gilvary, who saw the plane pass directly overhead.

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The 148 passengers and five crew members on board were not injured. Passengers were re-scheduled on other flights, Perry said.

14-year-old passenger recalls emergency landing 14-year-old passenger recalls emergency landing

Parker said that a bird strike is suspected as the cause of the engine malfunction. The plane will likely receive maintenance work and then go back into service and be flown to Minneapolis.

RDU had six “substantial” incidents of birds striking planes between 1990 and 2007, most recently in June 2002 according to an April report from the Federal Aviation Administration. No one was injured in the collisions.

In January, Hamlin described measures to keep birds away, including setting off fireworks, communication between air-traffic controllers and pilots, and removing birds from RDU property.

Most jet engines are designed to digest birds up to 4 pounds. Thirty-six species of birds weigh more than that, and many fly in flocks.

Witnesses saw flames

Hamlin said that RDU fire crews checked out the plane and saw no signs of a fire. However, a passenger and multiple witnesses told WRAL News that the plane caught on fire.

Rhett Lawson, 14, of Greensboro, was flying to a summer camp. He was sitting in the last row of the plane when he thought he saw an engine blow out.

“A whole bunch of people started screaming, 'Fire.' And I look over, I open my window, and I could see this huge flame coming from the engine,” Rhett said.

Passengers were ordered to get in position to prepare for a crash, and a lot of people on board were praying, he said.

"I just thought, 'This is it. This is not going to end up well,'" Rhett said.

Witnesses said they heard an explosion and saw a low-flying plane on fire over north Raleigh and Falls Lake.

Greg Walker said he heard what sounded "like a Harley Davidson" in his back yard in the Ethan's Glenn subdivision, off N.C. Highway  98. He looked out and saw a plane with flames coming from its front and reaching almost its entire length.

Gilvary and his wife thought they heard a tractor back-firing while they were riding horses. Then in the distance, over the field, they saw a plane on fire. When the plane got closer, he saw flames coming from the left front engine.

"(My wife) was immediately in tears. She said, 'How many people are on that plane?'" Gilvary said. "We thought for sure it could have exploded any second. ... I couldn't believe it didn't blow up."

But the engine was quickly shut off, extinguishing the fire, he said. Three times, the plane drifted to the left, its left wing dipping down, he said.

"Every time, he'd bring it back level," Gilvary said. "We thought, 'Man, what a good pilot.'"

Twenty-two minutes after take-off, Flight 1546 was back on the ground – safe.

"Everyone was clapping at the end and saying, 'Good job.' Everyone was really happy once we landed,” Rhett said.


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  • LambeauSouth Aug 10, 2009

    with everything happing on flight lately I say that the airlines should offer an extra set of underware and panties to all passengers

  • ncman Aug 10, 2009


  • colliedave Aug 10, 2009

    The FAA needs to find a way to keep birds away from airport runways and I really don't care if the method they select is humane. Despite what PETA may think people are far more important than birds.

  • timothycapwell Aug 10, 2009

    They'd have to clean my seat up...yikes! Great job by the crew and passengers for remaining calm.

  • falcatta Aug 10, 2009

    The flames coming from the engine intake is an indication of a compressor stall/stag. While scary looking, it's a condition all pilots train for and is fairly routine to recover from in a multiple engine aircraft.

  • Momsy Aug 10, 2009

    I was on a Northwest plane one time when this same thing happened. Flames shot out of the right engine and there was a terrible smell in the cabin. The pilot was very professional and calmly informed us we were having a problem and returning to the terminal. They would try to get us another plane and we would leave later. The only scary thing was when we landed we were taken to another part of the airport and the fire engines circled the plane for a few minutes. After about 2 hours in the terminal, another plane arrived and we flew on without incident. I think having the pilot being calm about the whole thing helped. While we were waiting for the replacement plane, he walked around the gate area and talked to the passengers, handing out wings and cards to the kids.

  • carolinagal78 Aug 10, 2009

    Praise the Lord! Story gave me goosebumps. I think I would have a heart attack if I was on the plane. lol!

  • MissManda- has real boobs Aug 10, 2009

    Well this doesn't really excite me about having to fly to Boston next month. I'm very glad that everyone made it through that ordeal safely

  • kitcat718 is a college student Aug 10, 2009

    Thank God everyone is okay. What a scary ordeal.

  • Mr. Iowa Aug 10, 2009

    These planes are made to fly on one engine. It's not pretty but each engine can independently fly that plane so they can get landed. It's a scary situation, but with one engine, she had no problems. If you're curious, read this: