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Passenger: Flight From Westchester Co. Airport 'Started Swerving' After Bird Strike

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Passengers aboard a JetBlue flight bound for West Palm Beach from Westchester County say they are thankful to be alive after a bird strike forced the pilot to make an emergency landing Tuesday night.

Shortly after takeoff, two geese hit the windshield of JetBlue Flight 571 blocking the view from the cockpit. For the 54 passengers on board, it was a scary moment.

"The plane started swerving immediately right after the two hit, so he was rocking the plane back and forth," passenger Laura Echavarria said. "I'm going to die. I'm not going to see my family."

WCBS 880's Sean Adams reports


The pilot was able to turn the plane around and land safely at the airport, but the bird strike had a ripple effect causing other flights to be delayed and diverted to make way for the emergency landing.

Passenger Susan Acker, who was on a different flight, said her plane had to be diverted to LaGuardia after running low on fuel while waiting for Flight 571 to land.

"A little nervous when you hear we've got to go get fuel, even though you know they're not cutting it too short, you hope," she said.

Airport officials and aviation experts say bird strikes are a common occurrence and even call them routine. Aviation consultant Ken Paskar said it especially challenging for pilots to see birds at night and in poor weather.

"When visibility is reduced, you can't see the birds, where they are flocking or migrating, so you can't warn the pilots ahead of time," he said. "That's been a very, very big problem."

But Paskar said Tuesday's bird strike had the best possible outcome.

"The most important thing to understand is that birds and airplanes don't mix," he said. "In the past, I've known of bird strikes in which birds actually gone through the windshield, so in this case we're very, very lucky that didn't happen."

This is the second time in a week that a bird strike has forced an emergency landing in the New York area.

On Thursday, a flight bound for Los Angeles had to make an emergency landing at John F. Kennedy Airport after striking a bird.

In 2009, birds were sucked into both engines of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 out of LaGuardia. Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger safely landed the plane in the Hudson River.

Officials at Westchester Airport told CBS 2's Lou Young that they believe that the birds involved in the latest incident came from the Greenwich, CT side of the airport, something that had not happened in the past.

"They mostly roost on the western side close to the reservoir area, so to have them come straight across, something must be changing," said Airport Manager Peter Sherrer.

And these birds will not be leaving anytime soon.

"These aren't migrating geese, these are local geese," said Operations Manager John Starace.

The task of managing wildlife at Westchester airport is a 24/7 job. Bird spotters use aerial noisemakers to startle birds because they have gotten used to the loud drone of the airport's jets.

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