Airplanes chew up birds all the time, but sometimes the birds win.
That may be what happened Thursday in New York City when a US Airways Airbus 320 made a crash landing in water only three minutes after taking off LaGuardia International Airport.
Flight 1549's pilot reported a "double bird strike" to air traffic controllers moments after taking off and said he had lost thrust in both engines, said Alex Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
Technically, that means the plane had struck or been struck by two birds, Caldwell said.
Air Line Pilots Association safety committee chairman Rory Kay said the pilot's message easily could have meant the jetliner had ingested birds in both engines or that it had been struck by more than just two birds.
"It's not easy to count birds," Kay noted wryly, when you're taking off or landing. Typical speeds can exceed 100 miles per hour (160.93 kph).
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said, "Bird strikes do happen from time to time."
She said there have been few major accidents due to bird strikes, "and not in many years _ not like this one. ... It's more common in general aviation, smaller aircraft."
FAA requires pilots to report bird strikes, she said.
Kay called birds "a definite Achilles' heel" for aviation.
A commercial airliner such as the US Airways plane is most likely to encounter birds on takeoffs and landings because that is when the plane is flying at lower altitutes, Kay said. Most of the time airliners fly at 20,000 feet to 30,000 feet (6,100 meters to 9,150 meters) where birds are few.
But below 5,000 feet (1,525 meters) is where planes run into trouble, Kay said.
"There is no shortage of bird strike reports. ... You just don't get to hear about them," said Kay, a Boeing 767 pilot who has been flying for 34 years.