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No birds seen at Queenstown before suspected Virgin strike: airport

written by Jake Nelson | June 18, 2024

Seth Jaworski shot this Virgin Australia 737-800, VH-YIV, at Sydney in 2018.

Queenstown Airport has said no birds were spotted on the airfield shortly before Monday’s suspected bird strike on a Virgin Australia flight to Melbourne.

Flight VA148 was forced to divert to Invercargill after flames were seen shooting from the engine shortly after takeoff. The airport’s assertion does not necessarily rule out a bird strike, and the 737-800, VH-YIV (pictured at Sydney in 2018), remains in Invercargill as of Tuesday.

67 guests and six crew were on board VA148, which landed safely in Invercargill at approximately 6:50pm on Monday with no reported physical injuries, according to Virgin Australia chief operations officer Stuart Aggs.

“Our efforts are now focused on providing support for our guests and crew, as well as transporting and accommodating guests in Invercargill this evening and arranging for their earliest onward travel to Australia,” he said on Monday night.

“We wish to express our appreciation for the support of Invercargill Airport, Emergency Services, local Air New Zealand team members and our crew onboard in helping to support tonight’s response effort.”

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Passengers have reportedly since been reaccommodated on a flight from Queenstown to Australia.

In a statement, the airport said the NZ Civil Aviation Authority records a “low” incident rate for bird strikes at Queenstown.

“Airfield inspections are conducted by ZQN staff multiple times each day. An inspection was completed minutes before Virgin Australia flight VA148 departed on 17 June and no birds were detected on the airfield at that time,” the statement read.

“If a pilot suspects a bird strike has occurred, this is immediately reported to the Airways control tower, which in turn advises the AES team on duty, and a runway inspection is immediately carried out.”

Michael Hayward, a passenger on the flight, told Sky News that a loud bang was heard within the cabin shortly after takeoff.

“I’m sitting just behind the wings so I’ve basically got full view of the engine around the sides [and I see] flames,” he said.

“There was initial panic, a few cries but that very quickly kind of dwindled down as passengers kind of reassured one another.”

The airport detailed how it deals with the risk of bird strikes, saying bird activity varies based on season and migratory patterns.

“The primary species of concern at Queenstown are oyster catchers and plovers, along with smaller birds such as finches, starlings, and sparrows,” the statement read.

“The Airport Emergency Service (AES) team is responsible for ongoing wildlife hazard management at ZQN and monitors bird activity around the airport closely.

“A range of measures are used to deter birds from settling on the airfield and surrounds. These include mowing grass to keep it low and less attractive to birds, spraying to reduce food sources, and use gas cannons, acoustic machines, lasers, and pyrotechnics to scare birds away.

“We also work with our neighbours to reduce the likelihood of birds settling nearby.”

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Comment (1)

  • Dennis Goodman

    says:

    Bird remains have now been found near the end of Queenstown’s runway

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