12 INVESTIGATES: Birds vs. Planes

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - According to a federal database: there were more than 125 wildlife strikes recorded at Virginia airports in the last year, 30 of those happened at Richmond International Airport.

Airplanes, big and small, have their run-ins. It wasn't hard to track down a pilot with a bird vs plane story to share.

"Right at the last minute, there were three buzzards. Two of them dodged out of the way and one of them came in and hit the exhaust stack right here," said Ed Walker. This was the third time this corporate pilot hit a bird.

"I just kind of ducked. You know. Just like something's coming at your windshield while you're driving." added Walker.

The bird strike happened this fall as he was approaching Hanover County's Airport.

"It's kinda like hitting a squirrel while you're driving." Except squirrels don't have the potential to take out a windshield. A bald eagle crashed through one plane, causing minor injuries to the pilot and the passenger.

And if the bird takes out an engine? It has the potential to be fatal like one crash in 2003, outside an airport in Addison, Texas.

Though fatal crashes are extremely rare, the wildlife strikes are not.

"It definitely a problem around the area," said Winchester-based pilot Greg Foreman. He hit a Canada Goose last year on the runway at Hanover while landing his plane.

"About 10 or 15 feet from touchdown, above the runway. Two of the Canadian geese were on the runway and totally blended in with the markings on the runway," said Foreman.

The goose crumpled the leading edge of the left wing - causing $17,000 in damage.

In the last 20 years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has tracked more than 121,000 wildlife strikes with airplanes.

9 out 10 times, the strikes happen on take off or landing.

Hanover County's airport manager Hank Rempe said he's had a few run-ins with birds over the years, just not in Hanover.

"A lot of times, planes get hit by a bird, or a bird gets hit by a plane, and the pilots don't even know it. They don't realize it," said Rempe.

Like most airport managers, he's had to try a few techniques to move birds away from the runway.

In Richmond, the American Kestrel, Kill Deers, Mourning Doves and Eastern Meadowlarks get in the way the most. In all the strikes over the last year in greater Richmond, there were no injuries or serious damage.

The FAA and airports monitor these strikes. If they notice a pattern, they'll take action immediately. They will do what they can to move the birds along and keep the skies over Richmond safe.

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