During the time I lived in Alaska, there were some legendary air tales, but the one that sticks with me best is when an Alaska Airlines 737 taking off from Juneau was intercepted by a fish in mid-air.
What makes it remarkable is that it isn’t just another fish story that grows with every telling. It happened on March 30, 1987. Unfortunately, the news report went out on April 1st. April Fool! Nope. The real deal.
It was in papers around the US shortly thereafter. “Plane, Fish Collide in Mid-Air” – better known as fish camp in the sky.
An eagle was leaving with its catch and ran afoul of a larger bird – the 737. They were about 400 feet from the end of the runway when their paths intersected. Surprise! The rule of the wild is that what the bigger bird wants, the bigger bird gets. Whether the eagle voluntarily dropped the fish air turbulance ripped it way, the eagle dropped the fish, resulting in a mid-air aquatic collision.
In 2005 Alaska Airlines pilot CaptainMac af Uhr wrote about it, saying, “In one of those ‘I cannot believe this is happening to me’ moments, the two pilots (Bill Morin and Bill Johnson) watched the fish fall toward the aircraft as if in slow motion.” Splat.
The bird escaped. We can safely confirm the fish lost its life. At their next stop, Yakutat, the plane was inspected. No damage to the eyebrow window at the top of the cockpit. Grease and fish scales found, confirming a mid-air fish collision.
Now in the version I remember, the plane had to return to Juneau. Clearly, that was a fish tale gone wrong as this news story and more recent blog recount. My version had a salmon, but the news seems to indicate it was a modest size Dolly Varden. The fish story was better. What do you think? A big old salmon and a return to Juneau or a small Dolly Varden and the trip continues.
I was in Anchorage at the time. It fish attacks plane was the the talk of the town – the state, for that matter. Only in Alaska!
If you love Alaska stories, keep your eye out for the release of Recollections of a Tundra Dancer, coming soon. It’s about my life in Alaska – glaciers, moose, reindeer, fifty-five below weather and hair-raising air flight. You’ll be so jazzed you’ll be signing up for a tour of the Great Land.