By Marnie Hunter and Sara Smart, CNN
A bird strike shortly after takeoff sent a United Airlines flight back to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Friday, the airline said.
Flight 1930, on a Boeing 737-900, was bound for Miami International Airport.
“The aircraft landed safely and passengers deplaned at the gate,” United Airlines said in a statement. The airline didn’t provide details of any potential damage to the plane.
Kimberly Fiock was on the flight Friday morning with her husband.
“I knew something was wrong because there was fire below the wing that kept coming out in spurts, and it felt like the plane was kind of jerking,” Fiock told CNN.
“We could hear the pops of the engine trying to start and see the fire on our side since we were right by the wing. The lights kept flickering, too, when it would pop. I was just hoping we would be able to land safely!”
Fiock said she didn’t realize a bird strike had caused the problem until after the plane landed.
“The pilots did a great job getting us back safely, and I’m so grateful to them and the crew,” she said.
Flight tracking site FlightAware shows that Flight 1930 took off at 10:47 a.m. local time and returned to O’Hare 42 minutes later.
A new aircraft was assigned to the flight, the airline said, and it departed early Friday afternoon.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were more than 17,000 wildlife strikes at 753 US airports in 2019.
Engines are the most frequently damaged component of civil aircraft in the US, according to the FAA, accounting for about a quarter of all damaged aircraft components.
The FAA has a Wildlife Strike Database tracking such incidents.
The number of wildlife strikes with aircraft is on the rise, the FAA says on its wildlife site.
Strikes have increased steadily from about 1,800 in 1990 to 16,000 in 2018, the FAA website says.
“Expanding wildlife populations, increases in number of aircraft movements, a trend toward faster and quieter aircraft, and outreach to the aviation community all have contributed to the observed increase in reported wildlife strikes,” the FAA site says.
In 2009, pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III famously landed US Airways Flight 1549 on New York’s Hudson River after a double bird strike took out the plane’s twin engines.