Flight 1549 final autopsy: Labrador Canada geese

Flight 1549 posts

June 10, 2009

It appears our own Field Museum helped solve the mystery of the Flight 1549 bird strike. The NTSB worked initially with wildlife biologists to extract and collect the “snarge” aka  bird bitlets. The snarge samples were then sent to the Smithsonian Birdstrike Feather Identification Laboratory in order to confirm and then identify the particular species of bird. [The woman who heads the lab’s last name is Dove!]

Why a specialized lab for bird strike feathers?

Because they investigate approximately 2500 bird strikes a year or roughly 15 -18/day. Makes one wonder why more airports aren’t using bird-detecting radar, which has been proven to be very effective. The cost $500K – $2M.  How much is one life worth? And the lawsuits resulting from a lethal birdstrike? One would think the insuring agency would demand they use them.

The USAF donated one to LaGuardia after Flight 1549. Curiously, Kennedy Airport had just that week began testing the radar. And if the testing had been at LaGuardia instead?

Bird-detecting radar can spot the birds to avoid but it can’t stop the birds from flying in flight paths. That’s the job of wildlife experts. To find a way to keep the birds out of the flight paths to begin with. It’s why the identification of the exact species of bird is so important. Whether it’s local or migratory. With local birds, the key is to not allow them to become familiar with the airport = to make it as noxious as possible.

At Sea-Tac they use lo-tech laser lights to simulate predator movement and set off inexpensive but loud detonator blasts to scare the birds off.

With migratory birds, the wildlife experts can predict and track with a fairly high degree of accuracy the birdss migratory patterns and thus be prepared. for their flyby. The challenge is rerouting their hardwired compasses so they don’t return next season.

The Smithsonian Lab was able to determine that it was snarge belonging to Canada geese. But they needed the Field Museum to determine which exact region of Canada they came from.

The NTSB didn’t need the subtype of geese to continue their investigation. In this case it was pretty clear. Flight 1549’s engine were not able to withstand such a large strike mass – the ingestion standard was just 4lbs. And that is limited to the actual structure of the engines. It doesn’t correlate with whether the whether the damaged engine would be able to maintain thrust and actually stay aloft.

As it turned out – 1549 had multiple, bilateral, simultaneous bird ingestions–geese that were each over 4lbs–and there was an immediate complete loss of thrust in both engines.

They never had a chance. Their survival rested on the engineers who built and maintained the plane and the skill of the flight crew. Fortunately, both held up spectacularly.

The solving of the final mystery — the precise avian culprit–was made easy because of Harold Hanson, a biologist for the Illinois Natural History Survey, who had devoted his entire life’s work to the study of Canada geese. He gathered  2700 specimens from all over the world that are now housed in The Field Museum. But not all of them were needed.

It came down to three possibilites:

Local New York geese – no.

Migratory geese – yes.

Two choices from the migratory routes:

Newfoundland and Labrador.

And Labrador it was – identified through feather and DNA analysis.

Source: Chicago Tribune’s William Mullen

Scientific explanation of testing methods
Awaiting bird bit ID
Bird bits – Canada geese
Helicopter downed by birdstrike
Bird-detecting radar
Low-tech bird solution at Sea-Tac.

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