Fish hits plane taking off in Florida

We’ve all heard of planes hitting birds upon takeoff. It happens fairly regularly, something that was illustrated by high-profile incidents like the “miracle on the Hudson” in 2009.


In this Sept. 10, 2013, photo provided by MacDill Air Force Base, a sheepshead, right, is shown on a runway along with a biohazard bag and radio for scale. An osprey carrying the nine-inch sheepshead flew in front of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Gulfstrean G-IV jet as it prepared to take off and dropped the fish, causing it to strike the plane. (MacDill Air Force Base via AP)

It’s a much, much less common for a plane to hit a fish while taking off. But it happened last fall in Florida, because obviously it happened in Florida, it couldn’t happen anywhere but Florida (the state’s Constitution is very strict about weird news).

A jet was rolling down a runway at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa last September and on the verge of taking off when it hit something, the base said in a statement.

The pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Nick Toth of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stopped the takeoff and brought the plane back to a hangar so it could get checked out. The crew had seen an osprey fly in front of the plane moments before and figured that they had hit the bird, just as thousands of other planes hit thousands of other birds every year.

But nobody could find any remains of the bird on the runway. They did, however, find a sheepshead on the runway (the fish is commonly found in waters around the Tampa region). A Smithsonian lab in D.C. — the same one that identifies birds that get hit — confirmed that the jet hit the fish while taking off.

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

Officials said they think the bird was sitting on the runway eating the fish when it saw the jet and flew away, dropping the sheepshead. They also think the bird barely got away and would’ve hit the jet if it hadn’t dropped the fish.

Had the jet hit the osprey, it wouldn’t have been quite so unusual. Bird strikes date back to almost to the inception of human air travel. The first recorded bird strike happened to a plane flown by Orville Wright in September 1905.

Last year, there were 11,000 animal strikes at 650 airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The overwhelming majority of the animals hit by planes are birds, though planes also hit deer, coyotes, turtles, skunks, bats and alligators, the FAA said. (Snowy owls flocking south have also been cropping up around airports and getting hit by planes.)

And, apparently, planes also hit the occasional fish.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.

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Mark Berman · March 6, 2014

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