Bird Strike Out Of Bombay

April 9, 2023 By Isabelle Sophie Martinet

We were cleared for takeoff on runway 27 at Bombay’s Santa Cruz airport. On board was a full load of Indian muslims who were on their once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca. It was a hot day and we were close to the maximum takeoff gross weight of 430,000 lbs. The aircraft, a Lockheed L1011-1, had a long takeoff roll with the three Rolls Royce RB211 engines producing maximum thrust.

At 1,500 feet I pushed the nose over to increase speed so that we could start retracting the flaps. Just then there was a large thump from the left side of the aircraft. The leading edge of the left wing appeared to be normal so we decided it must have been caused by a large bird ingested into the left engine. The flight engineer reported that all engine indications were normal, so we continued retracting the flaps on schedule and climbed to our first assigned altitude.

After a discussion among the three of us, the captain decided to continue on to Jeddah in accordance with our flight plan. Santa Cruz airport is close to the beach and there is an ever present threat of bird strike from seagulls.

The first part of the flight was over the Arabian Sea and it was not long before we lost VHF contact and all communications reverted to HF until approaching the coast of Oman. Anyone who has used HF knows how frustrating it can be at times giving position reports and trying to understand controllers with unfamiliar accents.

During the flight over the Arabian Sea the Rolls Royce engines ran perfectly with normal indications. Flying over the Saudi Arabian desert we encountered moderate to severe clear air turbulence which was uncomfortable for the passengers, many of whom were on their first flight. For the three of us, apart from the discomfort, there was also the concern over the left engine which had ingested the bird. We called Jeddah on HF and tried to get a level change to climb out of the turbulence. Getting a level change from Jeddah during the Haj is a lost cause at certain times of the day. Of course, there’s a lot of traffic on all of the airways leading to Jeddah during the two months of the Haj.

As it happened we needn’t have worried. The engine just bounced up and down in the turbulence but continue to run normally. Approaching Jeddah we were cleared for an ILS (instrument landing system) approach to runway 34C. Jeddah airport has three parallel runways to handle the increased traffic during the annual Haj.

On landing I used minimum reverse thrust and braking so as roll through and exit the runway close to the Haj Terminal which is located at the northern end of the airfield. After a very short taxy we reached the apron which had two full rows of aircraft from the Middle East, Africa, and the Far East.

After engine shutdown engineers came aboard to discuss the suspected bird strike. They then stripped down the left engine where they discovered some feathers but, at first appearance, there was no substantial engine damage.

A few days later the aircraft was flown on a two engine ferry flight to Abu Dhabi on the Persian Gulf, where there was a maintenance facility with an RB211 engine which had been flown out from the United Kingdom.

Bird strikes often cause substantial engine damage requiring an immediate return to the departure airfield. It is a worldwide problem particularly at airports located near the sea.

There was one celebrated case in which seagulls were ingested into both engines of an Airbus A320 shortly after takeoff. This incident caused a double engine failure at low altitude and resulted in the flight crew having to ditch the aircraft in the Hudson river in New York. Superior airmanship brought about a successful outcome with no loss of life.

Our own bird strike incident out of Bombay which was not critical, turned out to be an interesting experience. It’s a pretty good engine that will run normally for six hours after ingesting a large bird!