TAMPA — A Southwest Airlines flight from Tampa to Houston had to return to Tampa International Airport after takeoff Wednesday morning when the plane struck a flock of birds, damaging the aircraft's left wing.
“A little piece came off the wing,” said Emily Nipps, a Tampa International Airport spokeswoman. “It was enough for the pilots to be concerned.”
The pilots didn't feel comfortable staying on course and returned to the Tampa airport, she said.
“It's unusual for a bird strike to cause that much damage,” she said.
The flight departed at 11:30 a.m. and hit the flock of birds about four miles north of the airport, Nipps said.
No one was injured. The passengers were booked on another plane and continued to their destination, Nipps said.
The type of birds that were struck isn't yet known, but Nipps said they are suspected to be egrets or seagulls. Feathers were taken from the plane and will be shipped to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., to help identify the species.
All airports are required to report bird strikes to the Federal Aviation Administration. TIA also has wildlife mitigation programs, Nipps said.
“We track bird strikes pretty closely,” Nipps said.
The plane is in a Tampa airport maintenance hangar, where it will be repaired, Nipps said.