Seattle-bound Flight 68 was approaching takeoff speed when the eagle was ingested into the left engine shortly after 10 a.m. in Sitka. None of the 134 passengers or five crew members was hurt.
"We were roaring down the runway and about the time they'd be picking the nose up, we hear a big kaboom," said passenger Bill Shake of Portland, Ore. "It sounded like a flat tire."
Shake — traveling home after an annual fishing trip — said another in his large group saw two bursts of flames coming from the engine. Any shaking of the aircraft seemed to come from the sudden braking on the runway, said Shake, 68, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official.
"I've flown lots and lots of miles and I've never had anything like this happen," he said. "I've had bad weather and all those kinds of things, but not a bird strike."
The bird collision automatically shut off the plane's engine, airline spokesman Paul McElroy said.
McElroy said the jet braked to a stop about 3,000 feet from the end of the 6,500-foot runway, which ends at the water's edge. The plane then taxied back to the terminal with its single working engine.
The airline sent a replacement plane from Anchorage to continue the flight. It departed from Sitka about 4 p.m Sunday. Meanwhile, aircraft mechanics were inspecting the sidelined Boeing 737-400 for damage.
McElroy said he didn't know how often such bird strikes occurred.
"It's certainly not unheard of but it is unusual," he said.
Shake praised the pilot and co-pilot for doing "a tremendous job" safely stopping the plane. He said passengers applauded when the pilot stepped out of the cockpit and told them they were turning back because of the eagle strike.
(Rachel D'Oro - JuneauEmpire.com)