Well, Wasn’t That Just Ducky?
By Jim McElroy


It was in the late '80s when I was flying F/O on the 747 with a very junior Training Center pilot/instructor, who was serving as captain on a routine proficiency trip to maintain his qualifications.

We were shooting a final approach to Kennedy using the JFK RW 13L VOR Approach, better known as the Canarsie Approach, when we encountered a large flock of migrating ducks when we were just passing the Aqueduct Racetrack. This would have put us below 700' AGL (above ground level).

Several of the ducks were ingested by the #3 engine, and it simply quit after shedding engine parts through the cowling. The #4 engine also lost power for a bit with a mighty shuddering compressor stall, but kept running (barely).

As we were on short (damn close-in) final, the captain asked if we had lost one or two engines. I could see the wheels turning in his Training Center mind, and as we were already configured to land with gear down and full flaps, I did not think it was an opportune time to make either a go-around, or retract flaps, increase airspeed and try get configured for a two-engine approach.

So, I replied that we had lost one engine and recommended we press on and just land on the runway. The landing was accomplished uneventfully and we taxied to the gate.

The compressor stalls had generated fire out the front and rear of both engines. I should mention here that the F/As had been on the intercom with an almost immediate “WHAT THE $@%$#% WAS THAT?”, and after reassuring them, I made a brief PA announcement for the passengers and the captain made a more detailed explanatory announcement after arriving at the gate.

Everyone, including idle pilots from the JFK ramp office were outside at the aircraft looking at the inside of the engine and duck blood & guts smeared all over the engines and right side of the aircraft. I received several incredulous stares when I answered questions by responding that Ihad been flying the aircraft. The tale of my personal “heroics” got even more colorful when I was getting on my commuter L-1011 for the deadhead trip  home to SJU.

I subsequently filed my debrief from SJU, JFK Maintenance changed both right-side engines, and I never heard anything more about it … although I’ve often regretted we weren’t able to save enough duck carcasses to serve dinner among the good guys on the JFK ramp!

But I suppose things could’ve turned out a lot worse, as the nearby photo of a recent RyanAir encounter with ducks illustrates. 

Jim McElroy flew the line 1966 – 2002 for both TW and AA, and was based at JFK, MKC, STL and CDG.