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'Fish strike' stops jet's takeoff at MacDill

Mar. 5, 2014 - 10:16AM   |  
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TAMPA, FLA. — “Bird strikes” are a familiar hazard for aircraft. Now authorities at a Tampa Bay-area military base say they’ve recorded something new: a “fish strike.”

According to MacDill Air Force Base officials, a jet flown by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pilot was struck by a 9-inch sheepshead during takeoff in September.

“We were nearing the point in the takeoff where we needed to rotate, or raise the nose of the airplane off the ground, when an osprey with something in its claws flew in front of our aircraft,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nick Toth, the NOAA pilot.

The crew of the Gulfstream GIV heard a thud and aborted takeoff, assuming they had hit the bird. The jet was not damaged, and none of the crew was injured.

Instead of bird remains on the runway, though, inspectors found the sheepshead, a silvery fish with black stripes on its sides.

The fish and DNA from the aircraft were sent to the Smithsonian Feather Identification Laboratory in Washington, D.C., for analysis. Researchers concluded that the jet did in fact strike the sheepshead during takeoff.

“At first, we didn’t believe the test results,” said Toth. “There was no way we hit a fish during takeoff. I mean, how does something like that even happen?”

According to a statement released Feb. 21, the base’s wildlife managers and NOAA’s aircrew believe the osprey had been perched on the runway eating its catch and tried to fly out of the way when the jet started its takeoff.

“As comical as this event is, the underlying lesson is that vigilance with regards to wildlife on and around the runway is necessary to keep all aircrew and aircraft safe and to maintain our goal of mission readiness,” said Lindsey Garven, 6th Air Mobility Wing Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard contractor.

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