Pilots recognized for quick response to eagle collision

Aug 25, 2011

Two Washington pilots are getting recognition for safely handling a jet that collided with an eagle last year. One of the plane's engines exploded when the bird flew into it.

Alaska Airlines Captain Steve Cleary of Federal Way and First Officer Michael Hendrix of Seattle won the Superior Airmanship Award from the Airline Pilots Association.

The two were at the helm of a Boeing 737 in August of 2010 when it took off from Sitka, Alaska.

Pilots Association spokeswoman Jennifer Sutton says Cleary and Hendrix struggled to maintain control. But they were able to stop the jet before it veered off the runway or dropped into the ocean.

"The really amazing thing here is that, while this could have had a tragic ending, the procedures they took that day and the clear, swift-thinking action resulted in an event where there were no injuries to any of the 134 passengers or five crew members on board," Sutton says.

A jet sent to pick up stranded passengers in Sitka also struck and killed an eagle on takeoff. But that plane was not damaged and the flight continued.

Bald eagles are common at southeast Alaska airports. Some runway crews use noise to scare off the large raptors.