A Southwest Airlines flight that took off from Raleigh-Durham International Airport Monday afternoon returned within about 30 minutes after striking a bird, airport officials said.
“You just hear like – wha womp, wha womp," said passenger Shelly Tranchita. "It was like a pinwheel, and you heard it hitting things.
"We saw some smoke and it is very, very scary. Nobody was saying anything. Nobody knew what was going on.”
George Shackleton III was sitting near the engine. "I saw the flashes out the window, and people were saying, 'Oh my gosh, it is on fire. It is on fire,'” he said.
Flight 220 was destined for Chicago and took off just before 6 p.m. With one engine damaged and shut down, the flight returned to RDU.
Eventually, the pilot came on the speaker to explain.
Tranchita made fast friends with her seatmate. "I was grabbing the gentleman next to me," she said.
Passengers prepared for the landing with coaching from the crew.
"Everyone was calm. People were in tears, people were scared, babies were crying – but we had to pray to God for a safe landing," Tranchita said.
And that is what they got. None of the 124 passengers and 5 crew members were injured.
"Then we clapped. Everyone clapped. It was an uproar. It was a beautiful thing. We landed and were safe and it was a huge relief," she said.
Shackleton called it "a roar of applause."
"I high-fived the guy next to me over his crying girlfriend," he said.
Southwest brought in another plane to give Chicago-bound travelers the option to leave later Monday evening.