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Birds are powerful enough to bring down an entire plane -- so what can be done?

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PITTSBURGH - They may be small, but birds are powerful enough to bring down entire airplanes packed with passengers.

A Target 11 investigation uncovered that bird strikes are not as uncommon at Pittsburgh International Airport as you may think, and that the airport has a program to protect planes and the neighborhoods they fly over from a strike.


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Doreen Welsh knows the danger firsthand.

"The only words we ever heard from the cockpit were ‘brace for impact,’” she recalled.

Welsh, a retired US Airways flight attendant from Beaver County, was on board US Airways Flight 1549.

It made an emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York on Jan.15, 2009, after bird strikes disabled both engines.

"When I looked out, all I saw was water and I thought, ‘Wow. This is a whole new ballgame,” she said. "Is it possible that it could happen again? Yes, it is, especially when there are a lot of birds at certain airports."

But it is not just happening in New York.

A Target 11 investigation found bird strikes happen an average of every four days at Pittsburgh International Airport, and May through September are peak times.

According to the FAA’s Wildlife Strike database, there have been 376 strikes reported at Pittsburgh International from January 2010 until October 2014.

  • CLICK HERE to search the FAA Wildlife Strike Database

"We don't want a catastrophic event," said Ben Shertzer, the airport wildlife administrator.

It is Shertzer’s job to keep birds and animals away from the runways and planes.

They use a pyrotechnic pistol to scare away birds and also monitor and maintain the airport’s fence.

They also pay extra attention to the height and type of grass used because animals can hide in there. .

"That's why we try to get rid of brush,” Shertzer explained.

He added they are always looking for new ways to control wildlife because passenger safety is their top priority.