By Duncan Mlanjira
Sunday’s Malawi Airlines flight ET20 from Lilongwe to Johannesburg via Blantyre and flight ET21 from Johannesburg to Lilongwe via Blantyre were delayed due to yet again another bird strike at Kamuzu International Airport.
A statement from Malawi Airlines the bird strike incident, now the third in under three week, has been brought to the attention of the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) to mitigate the problem of birds on the airports permanently.
“It is our expectation that the authorities will act swiftly in order to prevent any further incident,” said the statement.
The first incident occurred on December 3 when birds struck Malawi Airlines flight to South Africa, damaging the plane’s engine’s blades and forced it to return to KIA.
The flight was delayed operations as the engine was being repaired while the second incident happened on Sunday, December 6, which, according Malawi Airlines, resulted in grounding of its aircraft for two days to allow for engine change.
This brings to mind to what happened over a decade in the US when everyone onboard a US Airways flight survived after both engines of the planes were destroyed by birds that had struck it.
The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, made a swift decision to land his plane into New York’s Hudson River beside Midtown Manhattan.
Sullenberger, known as Sully, became an instant hero and the unforgettable image of the passengers and crew crowded onto the wings and escape slides awaiting rescue, as the plane floated in the icy waters, was flashed around the world.
New York Governor David Paterson was quoted then as saying: “We had a Miracle on 34th Street. I believe now we have had a Miracle on the Hudson.”
A report by independent.uk.co done in August 2020, says January, 15, 2009, Flight 1549 was scheduled to fly from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina, and continue on to Seattle.
Sully, an air force veteran and commercial pilot since 1980, was joined in the cockpit by first officer Jeffrey Skiles they were also 150 passengers and three cabin crew on the Airbus A320 when it took off at 3.25pm.
The report says Skiles was in control and visibility was clear, when at 3.27pm the plane struck a flock of Canada geese at an altitude of 2,818 feet (860m). The size of the “bird strike” caused both engines to flame and shut down.
Sully is reported to have taken control of the aircraft and Skiles attempted an engine restart.
“The plane entered a glide descent, picking up speed to 240mph. Sully placed a mayday call to LaGuardia and attempted to turn back, but realising they wouldn’t make it, asked to be cleared to land at Teterboro in New Jersey,” says the report by independent.uk.co.
“Permission was granted but, losing altitude, Sully radioed: ‘We can’t do it … We’re gonna be in the Hudson.’
“Heading south west, parallel to Manhattan, the plane passed less than 900 feet (200m) above the George Washington Bridge and Sully commanded passengers and crew to ‘brace for impact’.”
The report further says at 3.31pm the plane ditched in the middle of the river opposite West 50th Street near the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. Intact and upright, the aircraft began to drift south with the current.
Passengers were evacuated through the four over-wing and two front exit doors, and were encouraged to climb over seats to speed the process up.
Water was entering the plane through the back and the tail-end began to dip. Sully walked the cabin twice to make sure everyone got out before leaving the plane himself.
The temperature was below freezing and many passengers had to stand in water on the inflated slides or the wings. Some fell or jumped into the river.
“Two NY Waterway ferries were first on the scene and began to take passengers onboard. Remarkably all were accounted for in just 25 minutes.
“There were just five serious injuries and 78 people received medical treatment.”
Sully was brought under scrutiny for his actions but subsequent investigation using flight simulators found that only half of attempts to land at LaGuardia or Teterboro succeeded.
Sully testified before the National Transportation Safety Board that attempting to reach an airport could have killed those on board and potentially more on the ground.
The board ruled in his favour and commended the crew’s decision-making, teamwork and performance during the evacuation. Other favourable factors were the aircraft being equipped with life vests, rafts and slides, nearby vessels, the fast response from emergency crews, and favourable visibility.
“Some passengers suffered post-traumatic stress in the aftermath, and many simply couldn’t believe they had survived. Each received an apology from the airline, financial compensation, and had their tickets refunded. Some baggage was even recovered.
Sully and the crew were lauded by both president George W Bush and and president-elect Barack Obama, who invited them to his inauguration five days later.
They received a standing ovation at the Super Bowl and keys to the city from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Sully retired the following year and in 2016 he was portrayed by Tom Hanks in a film ‘Sully’ directed by Clint Eastwood.