Anchorage-bound cargo jet lands safely after bird strike damages wing

A jet headed for Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was damaged in a bird strike this week, and a biologist is calling the incident a teaching moment for Southcentral Alaska pilots as migration season begins.

Spencer Nelsen, an airport biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the Nippon Cargo Airlines jet was about 3,000 feet above Point MacKenzie, on the opposite side of Cook Inlet from Anchorage, at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday when at least one bird hit its wing. Airline representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

The four-engine Boeing 747-8 freighter was descending toward the airport but not yet on approach.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the initial report was that three quails and two other birds had struck the jet, but Nelsen said different birds may have been involved.

"The pilot reported something maybe quail-sized," Nelsen said. "Based on where he was and the time of the year, we think it was maybe a duck or a goose."

The aircraft didn't display any flight problems and landed safely at the airport. Kenitzer said no injuries were reported, but Nelsen said the jet was grounded for repairs.

"It was just a small crack, but you wouldn't want to fly with it," Nelsen said. "It was the right wing, between the (inboard) engine and the fuselage."

DNA from the bird remains is being examined to determine the species. Nelsen said the strike -- which happened more than 5 miles from the airport -- isn't being considered a wildlife management issue associated with the airport itself.

Going forward, Nelsen said, pilots in the region should "keep their eyes out right now" for birds, even at relatively high altitudes.

"Especially right now with the spring migration, it's an issue for everybody," Nelsen said. "This happened at 3,000 feet -- you don't have to be near the ground for it to happen."

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.