June 10, 2009

Canadian geese brought down flight 1549

Smithsonian Institution scientists say the birds that struck a plane in New York, forcing it into the Hudson River in January, were migratory Canadian geese.

The researchers said they examined the feather remains from the Jan. 15 US Airways Flight 1549 bird strike and determined the geese were from a migratory, rather than resident, population.

Scientists in the Feather Identification Laboratory at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History said they used molecular genetic techniques and feather samples from museum collections to determine that the birds involved were Canada geese (Branta canadensis) with individuals estimated to have weighed about 8 pounds.

The finding, the researchers said, will help in the development of policies and techniques designed to reduce the risk of future collisions.

The plane had just taken off from New York's LaGuardia Airport, when it collided with a flock of geese approximately 2,900 feet above the ground, extensively damaging both of the aircraft's engines. The pilot was able to conduct an emergency landing in the Hudson River and all 155 people on board survived.

Investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board later sent feathers and tissue extracted from the plane's engines to the Smithsonian in Washington for analysis.

The team's findings are detailed in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.