My Own Close Call Over the Hudson

The miraculous splash landing of the U.S. Airways Airbus on the Hudson River yesterday (January 15th) with no loss of life reminded me of my own close call at just about the same spot on the evening of April 7, 1981. I was returning from a meeting at National Audubon Society's Washington office on the Eastern Airline shuttle with some 40 other passengers. And we were over the river at 3,000 feet near 34th Street, on the approach to LaGuardia airport, when our Boeing 727 flew into a flock of large birds, mostly likely Canada geese as in the latest collision.

We felt the impact as birds were sucked into and crippled two of the jetliner's three engines, knocked out landing lights and put a big dent in the plane's radar dome. The cabin quickly filled with the decidedly unpleasant odor of roasted unplucked fowl as the plane slowed and turned toward the runway.

As a journalist, I wanted to talk to the pilot to find out exactly what had happened, so I waited until the other passengers had entered the jetway. I identified myself as the editor of the National Audubon Society's magazine. And as The New York Times reported the next morning, the pilot profusely apologized to me for killing the birds. I told him, "better the birds than me."

Audubon magazine staff members who knew that I had recently conquered a fear of flying by spending three weeks traveling about the Alaska wilderness and out to the Aleutians and Pribilof Islands in a variety of truly ancient aircraft were amazed at my calmness and willingness to get back on a plane a few days later.