Bird Forces Helicopter Emergency Landing

Admin Flex Air News, Helicopters

A helicopter collided with a bird in Yonkers, which forced the aircraft to execute an emergency landing.

The incident took place at Coyne Park on June 9. “A Westchester County Police helicopter was apparently struck by a bird on that Friday night and landed at Coyne Park as a precaution,” said Kieran O’Leary, a police spokesman. “The Aviation Unit crew examined the helicopter, determined there was no damage or any resulting safety issue, and took off again.” After landing at the park, members of the Aviation Unit established that the aircraft was unharmed and it resumed its flight.

O’Leary stated that the Yonkers Police Department was called by the Aviation Unit and informed about the emergency landing. The police verified that it was safe to land before the helicopter descended on the grass at Coyne Park. According to the FAA, reports of helicopter bird strikes have been on the upswing in recent years, resulting in damage to aircraft and increasing potential crashes. In 2013, 204 helicopter bird strikes were reported, up 68 percent from 2009 and 700 percent from the early 2000s. Jorge Castillo, FAA Rotorcraft Regulations and Policy Manager said:

“The data we have is showing we have been very, very lucky, and it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing fatalities.”

The increase can be attributed to greater awareness about the importance of reporting bird collisions after U.S. Airways Flight 1549 was forced to land in New York’s Hudson River when geese flew into its engines in 2009. Another reason is that large bird populations are on the rise in North America. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian geese, a large wild goose species, have multiplied from 500,000 in 1980 to 3.8 million in 2013. During those years, North American snow geese have grown from 2.1 million to 6.6 million.

American white pelican, bald eagle, wild turkey, turkey vulture, double-crested cormorant, Sandhill crane, osprey, and great blue heron populations are also increasing. Despite the increase in large bird populations, airliner incidents have been decreasing, as a result of measures enacted by airports to keep birds away from terminals. Helicopters have been less lucky, mostly because they fly at low altitudes, near bird populations. “We’re getting more severe damage, more frequent cases of birds penetrating the windshield and the risk of pilot incapacitation that could cause fatalities for everybody there,” said Gary Roach, an FAA helicopter safety engineer.

Roach recalled a recent incident in which a Gulf Coast helicopter pilot struck two ducks. The birds broke through the windshield, hitting the pilot in the face. The bird matter knocked out some of his teeth, clouded his vision and nearly suffocated him. He was able to land the helicopter and save his five passengers, but he required stitches and was unable to close his jaw for a month.

The FAA is studying whether technology, such as strobe lights, might help to scare birds away from helicopters.

In 2009, a red-tailed hawk crashed through a Sikorsky S-76C’s windshield. The damage to the aircraft, which was carrying oil rig personnel, disrupted the fuel feeding the rotorcraft’s engines.

The helicopter spiraled into a Louisiana bayou, killing eight of the nine people on board.