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2011 Aircraft Bird Strike Could Have Ended in Catastrophe

Last updated on 9th July 2021

A report recently released by media outlet Correio da Manhã, stated that a bird strike on an aircraft as it took off from Madeira International Airport in 2011 resulted in a lower cargo door malfunction (the door sprung open), which could have led to a ‘catastrophic failure’ resulting in the death of all 105 passengers and 7 crew members on board a SATA flight leaving Madeira for Copenhagen.  This “unprecedented” event has a statistical probability of less than one per 10 million flying hours.

According to Correio da Manhã, the aircraft collided with a flock of seagulls on take-off and both engines were affected. Furthermore, something “extremely improbable” happened: one of the birds made a direct impact on the flap of the cargo door handle, approximately 66 cm2 in size, enabling it to open during take-off.

According to the report, the pilot was cleared for take-off, although there were reports that a flock of seagulls were currently sitting on the runway, ignoring the ultrasonic bird scaring system.  As the aircraft took off, the seagulls hit the A320 undercarriage, flaps, fuselage and wings, while others were sucked into both the aircrafts engines, resulting in intense vibrations that were felt throughout the aircraft.” Luckily, the pilot was able to climb to a safe altitude and return to Madeira International Airport making a safe ‘overweight landing.’

The crew noticed that the hold door was already open on landing, but images released show that this was already open during the flight.

The investigation concluded that a seagull hit the door opening mechanism, and the plane’s manufacturer, Airbus, admitted after analysing the likely sequence of events that if the plane had been at a higher altitude the consequence could have been “catastrophic”, adding that it was the only event of its kind known to date.

This unprecedented accident happened in June 2011, but, according to the same source, the incident report was only published in June this year by the Aircraft Accident Prevention and Investigation Office.

Of course, the second biggest question is, why did it take 10 years to publish the report!

Samantha Gannon

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