Usually when a dog escapes in an airplane cargo hold there is a mess to clean up afterwards. But on the United Airlines flight from San Francisco the Irish wolfhound not only chewed its way out of a cage, but also burrowed through the Fiberglas liner and a layer of soft insulation in the cargo pit.
With 159 passengers sitting obliviously in the main cabin, the dog ripped into a bundle of wires, destroying some that controlled warning lights in the plane cockpit and others that extend the wing flaps, needed to slow the plane upon landing. Warning lights came on in the cockpit indicating something was amiss shortly before landing.
The pilot was able to land the plane at a slightly faster speed than normal because of the impaired flaps, but still safely and within design specifications for the Boeing 767, United Airlines said in a statement. The aircraft was returned to service a few hours following the landing.
Officials said the situation did not reach a crisis point and ground crews at Logan were never instructed to prepare foam or evacuation equipment for an emergency landing.
Exactly how the dog got loose after it was loaded into the plane in San Francisco is under investigation. However, it appears that the wolfhound - a breed that typically measures more than four feet at the shoulder and can weigh more than 150 pounds, making it the world's largest - chewed its way through the door of its cage.
Animal expert Amy Marder said it's no wonder a big dog under stress in a noisy cargo hold was able to do significant damage. "They get separated from their owner in this scary place and it's anxiety that motivates them to get out of there," said Marder, vice president of behavioral medicine at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
It's unclear what kind of cage the wolfhound was in, but Marder said airplane regulations generally call for kennels made of thick plastic, with a metal shutting mechanism.
So-called "giant" dogs like Irish wolfhounds are not often confined, which may have caused additional stress for the shaggy, generally friendly breed, she said.
While dogs and other animal passengers have acted up on airplanes before, the Federal Aviation Administration says it has no records of airplane damage caused by loose pets, said Roland Herwig, an agency spokesman.
But nearly three years ago, Vip, a 490-pound lowland gorilla bound from Boston for Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, delayed a Delta Airlines flight from Salt Lake City to Seattle by pitching a fit in the airplane's cargo hold.
The agitated ape banged hard enough on his crate for the plane's pilot and passengers to hear as the plane taxied onto the runway during one leg of the trip. Vip's handlers eventually decided it was a better idea o drive the gorilla the rest of the way.
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