Throwback Thursday: Windshield sushi – Alaska Airlines jet really did hit a fish in midair

The airplane that hit a fish is one of the most legendary stories in Alaska Airlines lore.

Like all great fish tales, the size of the fish grows with every telling, but the story that made headlines around the world in 1987 is completely true. (Although it probably didn’t help that newspapers published the story on April Fool’s Day.)

On March 30, 1987, an Alaska Airlines 737-200 lifting off from Juneau had a close encounter of the aquatic kind, colliding with a large fish. The fish was gripped in the talons of an eagle that had crossed flight paths with the plane. The eagle must have decided that playing “chicken” with a 737 wasn’t going to end well, and quickly changed direction.

“In the process, the eagle either voluntarily released its meal or the rapid turn ripped it out of its claws,” Anchorage-based Alaska Airlines pilot Captain Mac af Uhr wrote in a 2005 story about the incident. “In one of those ‘I cannot believe this is happening to me’ moments, the two pilots (Bill Morin and Bill Johnson) watched the fish fall toward the aircraft as if in slow motion.”

“Did we just hit what I think we hit?” Morin reportedly said over the radio, as the fish thumped the aircraft just behind the cockpit window. The eagle apparently escaped injury. The fish became windshield sushi, confirmed upon inspection at the aircraft’s next stop in Yakutat.

“They found a greasy spot with some scales, but no damage,” Paul Bowers, Juneau airport manager, told The Associated Press at the time.

Morin would later estimate that the fish was about 12- to 18-inches long, and that it may have been a Dolly Varden, based on the fact that they were running at the time.

Today, Alaska Airlines flies its own big catch. The Salmon-Thirty-Salmon is a tribute to the airline’s partnership with the state of Alaska seafood industry. Alaska Airlines flies over 20 million pounds of seafood a year from Alaska to markets in the United States, Canada and Mexico.  Imagine how confused that eagle would be today if it crossed paths with this big fish.

salmon-thirty-salmon-II

7 Comments on “Throwback Thursday: Windshield sushi – Alaska Airlines jet really did hit a fish in midair

  1. If I remember correctly from one of my Embry Riddle Safety classes we talked about this incident. The pilot wouldn’t have even reported it but had an FAA inspector riding in the cockpit so he had to go report the incident of a midair with a fish.

  2. You have never been fishing until you go fishing in Southeast Alaska ! For many years I spent my summer vacations in Sitka & never will forget the spawning salmon !

  3. Many moons ago, while attending an IA renewal seminar, one of the speakers, a service rep for GE told a story about an engine they received off a Lear Jet. It seems that engine had swallowed a fish also but unfortunately the osprey carrying it hit the horizontal stabilizer. History repeats?

  4. This incident occurred when my husband Paul Bowers was manager at the Juneau International Airport. What made the whole incident even funnier was it appeared in the newspaper article on April 1, 1987, APRIL FOOLS’ DAY. Paul Bowers received several phone calls from international news media requesting additional information and confirmation that the incident actually occurred and was not just an April fools joke. He still shares this story frequently and we all enjoyed the humor related to this incident.

  5. I was working that day in YAK..I remember Bill (Morin) calling in and saying they thought they had hit a fish. We thought he was kidding of course. He told us the whole story when he landed, so we looked for the impact area ..which we found. Of course, we had to wait for the mechanic to arrive and officially sign it off. One of many great stories I’ve witnessed while working here..

  6. Wow. This should be on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” incredible news from the north.

  7. My dad is Capt Bill Johnson from this story. Growing up we would always joke around about this. My dad took fishing to a whole new altitude!

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