Bird strikes can damage, crash planes

PHOENIX -  

Officials say a bird could be responsible for bringing down the F-16 jet near Luke Air Force Base Wednesday night.

Bird strikes can damage planes in an instant-- ripping apart engines or even slamming through the plane's metal skin.

We spoke with a pilot who's been through bird strikes himself to see how they can be prevented.

Ron Nielsen remembers hitting a bird mid-air like what happened Wednesday.

"Right as we were just about to take off, the bird hit the lower part of the fuselage. We heard a big thump, and all you do is you just keep flying," Ron said.

Ron's retired now, but he flew commercial and military planes for decades. He says birds can be a problem, especially when planes are taking off and landing.

"It can cause damage. The two most vulnerable places in the airplane would be the windscreen, where it could possibly injure the pilots, or the engines," he said.

"It has to be almost a perfect storm, between the bird being in the perfect place and the airplane in the perfect direction for that to happen," Ron said.

Luke Air Force Base actually runs a bird aircraft strike hazard program and tracks birds with radar. Just last year there were 58 bird strikes.

"There's things they've tried to import-- predatory birds, hawks and eagles and all that to keep the bird population down," Ron said.

Ron says in most cases, including his, bird strikes don't do too much damage.

"For the bird, it was his demise, but it didn't hurt the airplane," he said.

Ron says bird strikes are very unusual so passengers shouldn't worry too much about them. But an inspector general's report last year criticized the FAA for not doing enough to stop bird strikes.

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