‘I thought something exploded’: Sky 10 pilot describes ‘freak’ bird strike, avoiding disaster

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – A red-tailed hawk collided with Local 10 News’ helicopter Wednesday afternoon over Broward County, breaking the cockpit window.

The incident occurred during our noon newscast as Sky 10 was flying about 600 feet in the air over Pembroke Pines.

“It was a freak accident,” Sky 10 pilot Mark Lewis said. “I thought something exploded. It was that loud.”

“Then we got a rush of air coming in, just frightening,” Sky 10 photographer Joe Brennan said.

Lewis immediately returned back to base and landed safely.

While the bird did not survive the collision, no one on board the helicopter was injured.

The situation could have been a whole lot worse. A few inches higher or lower could’ve spelled disaster for the crew, but the precise point where the bird hit allowed them to maintain control.

“If it had hit lower, it could’ve come in and hit him and disabled him or whatever so very lucky,” Brennan said.

“We’re happy (there was) no other damage and we’re back safe,” Lewis said.

What are airports doing?

Bird strikes have proven to be a major aviation hazard.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, it’s not a growing one, however.

“Strikes occur every day, but when compared to the total number of flights in the system they are rare,” a report states.

The FAA noted that the number of bird strikes remained steady from 2018 to 2021.

“(L)ong-term goals include the integration of avian radar and bird migration forecasting into airspace management and the development of aircraft lighting systems to enhance detection and avoidance by birds,” the agency’s report states.

Both Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport have measures in place to mitigate bird strikes:

“MIA’s wildlife hazard management plan includes dedicated staff who patrol the airfield and use different techniques, from pyrotechnics to vehicle sirens, to disperse birds. Keeping grass height below 10 inches and minimizing water ponding on the airfield are other mitigation strategies. Within the last five years, the FAA has increased its efforts to receive bird strike information from pilots, which has led to reports increasing.”

Greg Chin, MIA communications director

“The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) has an in-house wildlife biologist who oversees its wildlife hazard management program. The goal of the program is to mitigate wildlife strikes with aircraft and maintain compliance with associated Federal Aviation Administration regulations. FLL operates under an FAA-approved Wildlife Hazard Management Plan, which outlines responsibilities of the airport authority, Air Traffic Control, and other partners with a role in wildlife hazard management. Part of the wildlife manager’s duties including deploying a variety of mitigation tools to help reduce wildlife strikes, including habitat modification, relocation, active harassment, and reduction of habitat attractiveness (food sources, shelter/cover, water, etc.). At FLL, the wildlife hazard management team also uses audio deterrents on the airfield to disperse or move potential wildlife hazards from high-risk airspace. Additionally, bird spikes are installed to eliminate roosting and nesting sites. While it’s not feasible to remove all wildlife risks, the airport uses an integrated approach to make the airfield as unattractive as possible to wildlife.”

Broward County Aviation Department

About the Authors:

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.

Amanda Batchelor is the Digital Executive Producer for Local10.com.