What are the chances? That’s got to be what the pilots of Delta Flight 277 were asking each other after a cracked windshield forced them to put their Boeing 747 down at Henderson Field on the Midway Islands where – before landing – the darn thing flew into a big ole albatross.
The pathetic photo sent to me tonight shows just how much damage a large bird can do. But don’t blame the albatross, they live here. In fact, they’re nesting at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge an island with “the world’s largest population of Laysan Albatrosses.”
Back in the 1930s, this little island was one of the places Pan Am clippers used to stop for refueling. Now its an emergency airport for trans Pacific flights.
The crew of Delta Flight 277 from Honolulu to Osaka, Japan found themselves in need of an emergency airport on the evening of June 23 when the windshield developed a crack. According to the Delta operations manual this calls for descent to below 14,000 feet, maintaining a cabin pressure differential of 2psi or less and landing at the nearest suitable airport.
The manual warns pilots of the higher risk of bird strikes at lower altitudes and that’s without even knowing the kind of bird this particular flight was likely to encounter. Are you ready? Its almost three feet high with a six foot wingspan.
Unfortunately for Delta and for the birds, the albatross feeds at night and nests by day. This explains why Sue Schulmeister, manager of the refuge said despite the fact that birds were on the ground, “we didn’t have a choice in this case because they needed to land.”
Ms. Schulmeister said the plane hit one albatross which damaged the leading edge of the wing, but a small white tern was also found “in the airport sweep following the landing.”
Henderson Field has a 7,800 foot runway and is owned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Until 1993 it was a Naval Air Facility.
Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Crash Detectives, I am also a journalist, public speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.