Bird Strike Labor Day Weekend Grounds USCG Helicopter at Eagles Nest Airport

Sep 14, 2016

On Sunday, Sept. 4, around 4 p.m., a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter out of Air Station Atlantic City made an emergency landing at Eagles Nest Airport in Eagleswood after a bird strike at an elevation of about 400 feet over the bay resulted in a shattered windshield.

Airport owner Peter Weidhorn said the chopper also blew a tire. The aircraft was grounded for about three days while repairs were made, he said. Once the new windshield was installed, it needed a day or two to dry before it was flight-ready.

How big is the risk of bird strike to small aircraft? A lot of variables play into that answer – time of year, for one, according to USCG Petty Officer Seth Johnson. A lot more birds are active in the summer than winter, he said.

“Birds hit planes on a fairly regular basis,” Weidhorn said. “You just don’t hear about it because it’s not all that dramatic. … It depends on the size of the bird you hit.” Another consideration is many airports are located near landfills, where bird activity is high. “But birds’ natural instinct is to get out of the way.”

“We were happy to provide a facility (for the landing,)” Weidhorn said. The Coast Guard routinely practices at Eagles Nest, he added, to keep skills sharp for nighttime rescue and emergency landings. Recognizing the importance of the Coast Guard’s work, prior to the storm and for all rescues, Weidhorn said he was thankful they didn’t have to make an off-site landing, which might have gone much less smoothly.

Johnson said protocol is such that anytime an aircraft collides with an object such as debris or wildlife, the pilot makes a precautionary landing to inspect the craft for signs of damage. Since the Coast Guard’s priority is to stay ready (semper paratus) in the event of any emergency, keeping equipment in top-performance shape is essential, he explained.

Programs are designed with the force’s flexibility and adaptability at the fore, Johnson said.

That day, the Coast Guard was patrolling the coastline in preparation for Hurricane Hermine when the bird strike occurred. A typical onboard crew would consist of four Guard personnel, Johnson said.  —V.F.

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