Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Hits And Kills Brown Bear Whilst Landing

Unfortunately, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-700 landing in Yakutat, Alaska, over the weekend killed a bear as it touched down. The runway had been cleared just ten minutes before the plane was due to land but the bear still managed to reach the runway and was killed on impact. The bear’s 2-year-old cub is uninjured.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-700
The Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-700 received damage to its left engine and has been grounded since the incident. Photo: Tomás Del Coro Via Wikimedia

What happened?

The Boeing 737-700, registration N615AS was arriving in Yakutat, Alaska, from Cordova, Alaska, when pilots felt an impact on the left side of the plane as it touched down. Although the plane landed safely with no injuries, the crew spotted the bear on the runway as the plane headed back to the airport apron.

According to the Aviation Herald, the aircraft was inspected, and the team found damage to the left-hand engine’s inlet and the cowling. The plane was due to fly onwards to Juneau and Anchorage, but both flights were canceled, and the plane was grounded for repairs. It is currently still grounded, and Alaska Airlines has said it may take a few days to repair.

It isn’t unusual for wildlife to stray close to airports in rural locations, but airports routinely check and clear the area to avoid incidences like this one. Staff from Alaska’s Department of Transport staff working at Yakutat airport had checked the runway ten minutes before the plane’s arrival and found no sign of any wildlife. However, the flight was due to land in the early evening, around 18:30, and so the area was dark, and the bear may not have been spotted.

Wildlife damage bird strikes
Although bears are not uncommon sights in Alaska, bird strikes are the most common wildlife to damage aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

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Preventing wildlife on the runway

Crew use vehicles, lights, and even pyrotechnics to check the area and deter wildlife. However, the airport is only partially enclosed with a fence. As such, staff are routinely trained to deal with situations involving local animals.

However, unfortunately, the mother bear was found close to the center of the runway. Her cub is thought to be alive and uninjured. Other animals have strayed a little too close to planes over the years, but this is thought to be the first time a bear has been struck in Alaska. That isn’t to say bears don’t make it onto the runway. One bear in Russia didn’t just wander onto the runway; he took a trip through the terminal as well.

Many airports’ remote locations mean Alaska Airlines has plenty of experience dealing with animals on the runway. Photo: Alaska Airlines

Wildlife and Aviation

Dealing with animals is a fairly common occurrence at rural airports. Moose, deer, caribou, boar, and dogs have all caused delays and problems at airports. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), wildlife causes billions of dollars’ worth of damage in the US alone. The most common form understandably comes from bird strikes around 17,228 across the US in 2019. Around 61% of these take place during landing procedures.

Despite the frequency of wildlife strikes, the FAA only report 327 injuries to passengers since 1990. So, although wildlife may be a risk of flying, they aren’t enough to cause serious concern.

Have you ever experienced a wildlife strike while flying? We’d love to hear from you if you have. Get in touch in the comments section and let us know.