WASHINGTON — For the five men who took off from a small Oklahoma City-area airport aboard a business jet that ran into a large bird, there was no miracle river landing. The twin-engine Cessna Citation 500 had climbed to 3,100 feet and was passing over a corner of Oklahoma City’s Lake Overholser on March 4, 2008, when it collided with a white pelican, one of North America’s largest bird species. Witnesses said they heard a noise that sounded like an engine stall, and then they saw the plane plunge nose down leaving a plume of gray smoke about four miles from Wiley Post Airport. Pilots Tim Hartman, 44, and Rick Sandoval, 40, and business executives Garth Bates Jr., 59, Frank Pool Jr., 60, and Lloyd Austin, 57, were killed. The National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to meet today to consider the safety implications of the accident and whether more should be done to prevent similar tragedies. The dangers of bird-aircraft collisions have received extensive scrutiny since US Airways Flight 1549 ditched into the Hudson River in January after striking a flock of Canada geese following takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The incident was dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson” when all 155 people aboard survived. Where Flight 1549 became celebrated for what went right, the Oklahoma City accident is illustrative of the many things that can go wrong. Although bird populations generally are declining, nearly all large bird species have been increasing since the enactment of environmental protections in the 1960s and 1970s. Air traffic has also increased dramatically, and even though traffic is currently down due to the poor economy, annual takeoffs and landings in the United States are forecast to surpass 1 billion a year by 2020. "We have birds and planes that are literally fighting for air space,” said Richard Dolbeer, an expert on bird-aircraft collisions. One resurgent species is the white pelican, which averages about 16 pounds but can weigh up to 30 pounds. "I don’t want to be an alarmist, but in my view something has got to be done about this,” NTSB acting Chairman Mark Rosenker told an aviation club in Wichita, Kan., this spring.
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