Photo Courtesy of Marc Sternfield.

A chartered Delta 757-200 jet that had just taken off from Salt Lake City hit a flock of birds, which caused one of the plane’s engines to burst into flames. The pilots successfully brought the distressed airliner back in for a safe landing at SLC. No one was hurt, though they were, sources say, quite shaken up by the close call.

The damage to the plane wasn’t restricted to the engine, in which photographs taken after the plane landed show debris. There are also obvious signs of a serious bird strike near the nose of the plane, very close to the windscreen, in fact. There was also damage to the right engine nacelle, where a section of the housing was missing, and the skin from another section was torn off, as well.

Photo Courtesy of Marc Sternfield.

Salt Lake City’s airport is very close to its namesake lake, which hundreds of thousands of birds call home. Among them are the white pelican, one of the largest species of bird by weight in the world. The danger is very real. A small, private business jet, a Cessna Citation, crashed after striking birds after taking off from Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City in 2008. Five were killed in that crash, which investigators say was the result of a collision with white pelicans. Investigators haven’t yet said what kind of birds are the suspects in this crash, and there are numerous species of large wading birds who nest along the shores of the Great Salt Lake. 

The bird strike incident took place on a regular team flight for the Jazz (the team name is due to the franchise previously having been located in New Orleans) as they were on their way for a game against the Memphis (nee Vancouver) Grizzlies. The single-aisle 757 is a popular charter airplane, and not only for sports teams. The model is quite large, but relatively economical to operate compared to twin-aisle aircraft, like Boeing’s own 767.