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Sea Gull Blamed for Jet Engine Blast on Takeoff

September 27, 2000

LOS ANGELES — A sea gull was blamed Tuesday for an engine explosion that forced a KLM jumbo jet with 429 on board to return to Los Angeles International Airport last month for an emergency landing.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said the bird was identified after the National Transportation Safety Board and the Smithsonian Institution performed tests on organic matter recovered from the damaged engine.

The Boeing 747 was taking off Aug. 27 for a flight to Amsterdam when the gull apparently was sucked into one of the plane's four engines. The impact threw the engine's spinning turbine blades out of balance, causing further damage that sent chunks of metal flying.

Several pieces of the engine plunged to earth near Dockweiler Beach, including a large slab of cowling. Although the beach area was crowded with picnickers and bikers, no one was hit.

The plane circled over the ocean for half an hour, dumping fuel to reduce its weight, before returning for an uneventful landing at LAX. Passengers deplaned without incident and there were no reports of injury.

Pilots in the United States reported about 5,000 bird strikes last year, and probably twice that many went unreported, FAA officials said. Several major crashes have been caused by bird strikes, including one that killed 24 airmen aboard a military plane taking off from Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska in 1995.

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