SALT LAKE CITY – A wildlife team at the Salt Lake City International Airport has launched an investigation into what went wrong on Tuesday afternoon when a charter flight carrying members of the Utah Jazz hit a flock of birds.
The plane ended up making an emergency landing. Video and pictures showed the engine ripped apart in areas.
"Our main mission is to mitigate the wildlife activity and wildlife hazards around the airfield," said Candace Deavila, the airport's wildlife manager. "Public protection and public safety is our number one priority."
Deavila said there were 163 bird strikes on airplanes in 2020. Most of them were very minor. Tuesday's strike on the Jazz's plane, however, proved just how dangerous birds can be to planes.
Deavila called the strike "sobering," saying it was the worst she's seen in her 11 years with the wildlife division.
"We do see (bird) strikes regularly, but this one was significant," she said.
Deavila told KSL the plane was between 4,000 to 5,000 feet off the ground and about 3 miles north of the airport when it hit the birds. The wildlife team covers a 5-mile radius around the airport.
The key now is to learn what species of bird caused the strike and hopefully prevent something as serious as this from happening in the future.
"We don't have a species yet," she said. "The main thing is if we can learn the species type, we can go out into the field and survey and figure out movements."
The team sent the feathers to a lab where experts can determine the species.
The challenge with birds, according to Deavila, is that the airport sits between two major flight or migration zones for birds.
"It really is kind of a hot spot or stopping point for migratory birds that are moving through here," she said.