All passengers on board an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-700 are safe after the plane collided with a brown bear while landing early Saturday evening in Yakutat, Alaska. Sadly, the bear was killed instantly, according to multiple reports.
The Associated Press reports the runway was cleared 10 minutes before the flight was expected to land, and the standard check for wildlife on the runway turned up clear. Still, the pilots reported seeing the two bears crossing the runway as the jet slowed after landing.
“The Boeing 737-300 struck and killed a brown bear sow (female), but its cub, thought to be roughly 2 years old, was uninjured,” said Sam Dapcevich, a public information officer with the Alaska Department of Transportation, in a statement to the ADN.
Alaska Airlines released its own statement, saying, “The nose gear missed the bears, but the captain felt an impact on the left side after the bears passed under the plane.”
The airlines said the pilots could see the bear lying about 20 feet from the center of the runway as they taxied the plane to the parking area, just after 6:30 p.m.
The airline would not say how many passengers were on board the flight that originated in Cordova and was set to land in Juneau after leaving Yakutat. Alaska Airlines says the collision damaged the jet’s left engine and that maintenance technicians are working to repair the plane, which could take several days.
The airlines said all those on board Flight 66 were eventually flown to Anchorage on another Alaska Airlines plane, where they were rebooked onto new flights.
Wildlife On Runways
Wildlife on runways and near airports is a fairly common occurrence, especially for rural airports like in Yakutat. Reports of incidents involving moose, deer, caribou, boar, and dogs have caused delays and other problems for airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, causing billions of dollars of damage. There have been about 227,005 wildlife strikes with civil aircraft in the U.S. between 1990 and 2019 (about 17,228 strikes at 753 U.S. airports in 2019).
According to the Dapcevich, this is the first time he was aware of a bear being struck.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that in 1987, another Alaska Airline jet was delayed while it was inspected for damage in Yakutat after a bald eagle dropped salmon from its talons in midair. The fish hit a cockpit window shortly after takeoff from the Juneau airport.
“They found a greasy spot with some scales, but no damage,” the Juneau airport manager said at the time.