DENVER — "Mayday mayday mayday," came the call over air traffic control radio channels near the Centennial Airport last weekend.
A Cessna-172 had hit at least one bird during takeoff — now the pilot was searching for a place to crash land. "Might have to put it on the golf course over here," he told air traffic controllers.
Both the pilot and passenger were okay after landing safely on a Douglas County golf course. Their plane flipped after skidding about 50 yards.
"We try to do everything that we can to avoid a bird encounter," said 9NEWS aviation expert Greg Feith. He said bird strikes like the one that impacted the plane last week are rare — but data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shows they do happen and are increasing in frequency.
"[Denver International Airport] does have an issue with birds because of the landfill that's in close proximity. Landfills draw birds, birds are in the immediate vicinity," Feith said.
Since 2020, more than 530 pilots at DIA reported hitting wildlife. The vast majority reported no damage to the plane, but the FAA said a Delta flight had to abort takeoff last summer because a hawk caused "catastrophic" damage and an engine fire.
"The larger the bird, the smaller the airplane, the more catastrophic the strike can be," Feith said.
Airports are responsible for wildlife control around takeoff and landing, which is when most collisions occur. Different airports have different mitigation strategies. "They use loud cannons that shoot blanks to try to scare the birds," Feith said. "A lot of airports use dogs to go out there to chase all of the ground-based or grass-based birds out of the area."
He says pilots routinely research bird activity near airports where they fly — and migratory patterns are sometimes even indicated on aeronautical charts. But Feith said there's only so much airports and pilots can do; after all, the skies are the birds' domain.
"We operate in their environment so we have to be cognizant of that as pilots," he said.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Latest from 9NEWS