A Fishy Bird Story

by Capt. John Snidow

Somewhere around the early seventies, I think it was, I showed up for my annual recurrent training at Seaboard's Hangar 3. As I stepped through the personnel door that was in the huge hangar door I saw a fairly new Boeing 747 and was hit with a stench like dead fish. The level was off the scale bad. I hadn't gotten my coffee or a bagel because I knew I could get that at the coffee kiosk that was run by the Irish lady, Jessica, I think it was. I was wrong because she was nowhere to be seen.

Despite the stench, I looked around the airplane. It was a mess. Both of the left-side engines were ruined. One of them was more or less cored with only stubs where fan and turbine blades used to be. The other had a lot of fan blade damage. The leading edge of everything on the left looked like God had taken a ball-peen hammer to it. The engine cowl leading edges couldn't possibly allow smooth airflow into the engines, the wings had big holes along the front, the fiberglass canoes that house the flap tracks and drives were mostly missing, the flaps had large holes and dents in them and there were still some seagull carcasses visible. Big seagulls!

The story I heard was that the airplane started down JFK's runway 31L at the maximum gross weight of 820,000 pounds or something close. At a high speed and well past the V1 safety speed, they ran through a large flock of those large birds, lost both engines on the left side, and Capt. Temple Robinson rejected the takeoff. They got stopped while on the runway, if only barely. All 16 tires with brakes went flat from the excessive heat. I'm sure it was a demonstration of superb airmanship and no small measure of good fortune or divine intervention. It certainly would not have flown! The B-747 was and still is a great machine and I was fortunate to fly it later in my Seaboard career and then with the Flying Tigers after the 1980 merger.

I don't know how long it was in the hangar but it was a long day in the classroom. I bet a lot of mechanics' wives refused their husbands entry into the house until they cleaned up.


Editor's note:

Bird strikes could have dire consequences. On November 12, 1975, a similar accident occurred at JFK on the same runway. An Overseas National Airways DC-10 was taking off with a load of company employees, most of whom were crewmembers. The gross weight was 1,000 pounds below the maximum allowable. After passing 100 knots, the captain saw a flock of gulls, which he estimated at about 100 birds, rise off the runway in front of the aircraft. The aircraft struck the birds and the number 3 engine disintegrated. Large pieces of it flew off. A fire started in the number 3 engine pylon and right wing. The captain aborted the takeoff but the runway was wet and he did not think the aircraft could be stopped on the runway. He steered it off the runway onto a taxiway at 40 knots and the landing gear collapsed. In addition to engine parts, other parts, including wheels and tires, a thrust reverser, part of an engine cowling, and a landing-gear door were found along or adjacent to the takeoff path. Also found on the runway were the carcasses of 20 gulls, weighing between 3 and 5 pounds each. Of the 139 people on board, 33 were injured. The aircraft was destroyed by impact and fire.

The NTSB reported stated,

The rapid and successful egress of all the occupants may be partially attributed to the fact that nearly all passengers were trained crewmembers and all were airline employees with knowledge of the aircraft, evacuation procedures, and facilities. Serious evacuation problems could have been experienced had this been a routine passenger flight with untrained airline passengers.

On March 8, 1976, the NTSB released a document which said, in part,

"Measures to reduce the bird hazard had been implemented on a piecemeal basis and did not equal the measures considered adequate by the FAA and the Port Authority after the accident."

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