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Utah jazz bird strike
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Utah Jazz plane bird strike was especially bad according to officials

View from KSL Chopper 5 of a charter flight carrying the Utah Jazz landing in Salt Lake City. The plane had just taken off but had hit a bird and had to return. (Photo: KSL Chopper 5)

SALT LAKE CITY – Airport officials are giving more information about the bird strike that forced a charter jet with Utah Jazz players to make an emergency landing. Officials said bird strikes are quite common, but this one was especially dangerous.

Representatives with Salt Lake International said there were 163 wildlife strikes by the airport in 2020, which included birds and other animals like skunks. Out of all of those, only eight were severe enough to force the pilot to turn around. Most often, the pilot will take a look at the aircraft after they land, then determine if the damage is significant enough to need repairs.

Wildlife Program Operations Manager Candace Deavila said, “I would say 60 percent of the time… probably closer to 70 percent, the pilot doesn’t even know they hit a bird.”

Deavila said it’s especially rare for a bird strike to cause the kind of damage done to the Delta jet carrying Utah Jazz players, goring large holes in one of the engines. She reported they’re certain the plane hit at least four birds shortly after takeoff, and they were much larger than the average gulls.

“It’s going to be tough to say exactly how many, but based on the bird strike location on the aircraft there are definitely four different strike locations where it was not the same bird,” according to Deavila.

The job of the wildlife program is to clear animals away from the two miles surrounding the airport, which Deavila believes is especially tough since the airport is so close to wetlands and migratory bird paths. Their crews have to use many different techniques to scare the wildlife away. Some may seem more traditional.

“We have firearms. We use pyrotechnics. We use our car horns, lights and sirens on our truck,” she said.

However, there are times when they have to trap birds of prey like hawks or owls, then release them far away from the airport. They also have to clear away any kind of vegetation that birds may like to eat. This time of year, they’ll be especially busy searching for water foul nests to try and clear out any nesting birds.

Deavila said, “Ultimately, we want to try and modify the habitat so that the birds or animals don’t want to come.”