Plane landing in dense fog hits swans: 'OK God, give him wisdom'

EUGENE, Ore. - Mark Mathis had a front row seat on Alaska/Horizon flight 2299 from Seattle-Tacoma to Eugene.

On the approach to Eugene, he thought the plane hit some turbulence.

"Then one motor is making some like high and low pitched sounds just revving up and then down," Mathis told KVAL News. "Then we were like, um, OK."

The airline said the jet hit three swans at about 200 feet in the air in very foggy conditions.

At the time, Mathis had no idea.

"Just praying," he said. "Hey, the pilot knows what he's doing. OK God, give him wisdom, if there's something going on, to deal with it."

After a safe but bumpy landing, Mathis walked to the front of the plane to see the damage.

He saw "a hole right into where the wiring is in the nose." KVAL News talked to Horizon's chief of pilots, who wouldn't make the comparison to 2009's Miracle on the Hudson when a plane hit birds and the pilot safely landed a plane full of passengers on the Hudson River in New York City.

But he said the crew did a great job dealing with the in-flight collision in thick fog.

"From what I've been able to debrief, the checklist used and the calls and just the calmness displayed by both gentlemen was just outstanding," he told KVAL News.

Bird strikes are not unheard of at the Eugene airport. There were 11 bird strikes last year and 8 in 2011.

The airport has a wildlife hazard program to decrease the likelihood of any collisions.

Using fake gunshots, shiny tape, decoys and vegetation control, airport staff try to make it uncomfortable for birds to hang around the airport and cause trouble.

"The whole idea is to change it up and so wildlife sees it and says oh wait, I don't want to be here around that," said Cathryn Stephens, the deputy airport director.

Mathis said he's just thankful this flight has the best kind of ending: one where he could personally thank the pilot.

"I just went up and said hey, thanks," he said. "That's pretty cool."