An American Airlines regional jet that was taking off at Charlotte Douglas International Airport struck a deer at about noon Wednesday, causing the crew to declare an emergency and return to the airport.
The American Eagle plane was headed to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi with 44 passengers and four crew members aboard, American spokeswoman Katie Cody said.
The CRJ-700 struck the deer during its takeoff roll. The flight crew declared an emergency and then did a flyover so personnel on the ground could inspect it for damage prior to attempting a landing.
“We had a loud bang, we’re coming back,” someone who appears to be a pilot tells an air traffic controller, in a recording from the Charlotte Douglas control tower.
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“OK, we think you hit – somebody that was passing said it was a deer,” the air traffic worker replies, then gives the plane directions to return.
“Say that again? I’ve got a bunch, a bunch of adrenaline here,” the crew member replies.
A few minutes later, the crew got the damage assessment from the ground.
“5320, you are showing you’re trailing some kind of vapor or something off the right wing,” an air traffic worker can be heard telling the flight crew.
“We copy and we understand,” the flight crew replies a moment later.
OK, we think you hit – somebody that was passing said it was a deer.
Air traffic worker, in a recording from the Charlotte Douglas control tower
The jet landed on runway 18 Left/36 Right, and passengers evacuated on the runway. They were returned to the terminal on buses, Cody said, and no injuries were reported.
Firefighting crews met the plane and sprayed flame retardant because it was leaking jet fuel, Cody said.
The runway reopened shortly after 2 p.m. after an inspection, and after the plane was towed away.
Charlotte Douglas spokeswoman Lee Davis said the airport will evaluate how the deer got on the runway as part of its wildlife management plan. Surrounded by over 19 miles of barbed wire-topped perimeter fencing, Charlotte Douglas is also ringed by thousands of acres of wooded land conducive to deer.
Wildlife strikes aren’t rare at Charlotte’s airport, but they don’t usually cause damage. The FAA had 47 reports of wildlife strikes at Charlotte Douglas in the first four months of 2016, the most recent period available. Almost all of them were collisions with small birds or bats, though a coyote and a raccoon were also struck on Charlotte’s runways last year.
The most famous wildlife strike associated with Charlotte was the emergency forced landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009, after Canada geese were ingested into both engines of the Airbus 320. All passengers safely escaped. The pilot, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, became a folk hero and the subject of the Hollywood movie “Sully.”
Flight 1549 was Charlotte-bound, and the plane is on permanent display at the Carolinas Aviation Museum near the airport.
Wednesday’s incident was the sixth deer vs. plane collision at Charlotte Douglas since 1994, according to the FAA. The last time a deer collision was reported at the airport, FAA records show, was in October 2010. A US Airways Boeing 737 struck a white-tailed deer, causing minor damage to the plane.
Globally, wildlife strikes killed about 260 airplane passengers and destroyed nearly 250 aircraft from 1990 through 2015, according to an FAA report published in November.
“Factors that contribute to this increasing threat are increasing populations of large birds and increased air traffic by quieter, turbofan-powered aircraft,” the report said.
In 2015, birds were involved in about 96 percent of the reported strikes, terrestrial mammals in 1.6 percent, bats in 2.3 percent and reptiles in 0.3 percent, according to the report. U.S. strikes dramatically increased over the years, while the number of reported damaging strikes declined since 2000.