Story last updated at 1:10 p.m. Thursday, September 19, 2002

Bald eagle euthanized after brush with Otter
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

As it was landing in Homer last week, an Era Aviation twin-engine Otter collided with a bald eagle, resulting in some minor damage to the plane's wing and major damage to the eagle's wing.

Some Anchorage-bound passengers were delayed.

According to Era spokesman Paul Landis, the darkly mottled immature eagle had been standing in a section of the runway that was covered with rubber skid marks and was invisible to the pilot of Era Flight 878, which was arriving on time from Anchorage around 3:05 p.m. on Sept. 11.

"The immature eagle on the runway was dark and blended in perfectly with the rubber skid marks," Landis said. "As the plane was rolling, the eagle flew from left to right and collided with the right wing of the twin Otter."

Landis stressed that the plane's landing was never in jeopardy.

The eagle survived the impact, sustaining a broken wing. It was delivered by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers to the Homer Veterinary Clinic, but it was euthanized after Dr. Ralph Broshes determined that the break was too close to the shoulder to legally allow treatment.

"It was euthanized because of the severity of the fractured wing," Broshes said, adding that federal law prohibits vets from saving birds under certain circumstances. "It wasn't going to be a usable or cosmetically acceptable repair."

Meanwhile, Federal Aviation Administration rules required the DeHavilland plane to undergo a check and necessary repairs before returning to service.

So Era shuttled it back to Anchorage without passengers and called in a 50-passenger Convair 580, to collect the passengers booked on the 3:25 p.m. flight back to Anchorage.

The leading edge of the Otter's wing, dented by the collision, was repaired late Wednesday and the plane resumed flying the following day.

Landis said the damage was minimal because the plane had slowed considerably when the bird strike had occurred.

"It wasn't like hitting a bird in the air," he said.

Airplane-bird collisions have been a major concern for pilots and air-traffic controllers in Alaska ever since a flock of Canada geese brought down an AWACS radar-surveillance plane at Elmendorf Air Force Base in 1995, killing all 24 people aboard.

"Certainly during migratory times of year, we're all aware that birds are out there," Landis said. "It's certainly something that pilots are looking for."

While wildlife managers set about reducing Anchorage's geese population, aviation officials initiated a warning system for pilots to alert them of the presence of migrating birds near runways.

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homernews.com.

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