A plane crashed near Anchorage, Alaska, last month, reportedly as a result of flying into a single immature bald eagle. The plane burst into flame, killing all four people on board.
According to the Huffington Post, the victims of the plane crash included pilot George Kobelnyk, 64, co-pilot Christian Bohrer, 20, and two passengers Sarah Glaves and Kyle Braun, 36 and 27 respectively. The National Transportation Safety Board revealed on Wednesday that the four had taken flight to photograph the Alaskan wilderness, not expecting that a fledgling from one of the state's most protected species would cause their tragic deaths.
NTSB: Plane in Birchwood crash that killed four struck a bald eagle before it went down https://t.co/FL0zxOfWvn pic.twitter.com/5EHXWf646TAuthorities are not entirely certain that the baby bald eagle directly caused the plane crash, according to ABC News. But after examining the wreckage, researchers found immature bald eagle remains near the tail of the airplane, which was a Cessna 172.
— Alaska Dispatch News (@adndotcom) May 4, 2016
"Remains of a bald eagle was found on the tail of the aircraft. Remains were sent to the Feather Identification Lab at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C." said lead investigator Shaun Williams. "There, they were able to determine that the portions of feather and other material came from an immature bald eagle."
It's possible that the impact between the bald eagle and the plane alone could have brought the aircraft down. If the eagle did fly into the plane's tail, it could have caused enough damage for the pilot to lose control. Authorities have also hypothesized that the bald eagle actually got inside the cabin and caused the crash from within.
"We are going to go back and look at crash dynamics to find out, where did the eagle hit? What effect did the impact have?" said Williams.
Investigators can track computer records of the airplane's exact flight path to determine if the crash was, in fact, caused by a single baby bald eagle. Air traffic control revealed that the Cessna made some unusually sharp turns near the airport before rapidly losing altitude.
"We're still going back and try to review past flights to see how this flight path compared to previous flights."After the bald eagle made contact, the plane went down in a densely wooded area with spruce and birch trees. And while the death of the four passengers was tragic, it is fortunate the bald eagle didn't bring the plane down on the airport or a heavily populated part of Alaska. According to Fox News, flames consumed most of the aircraft after the crash, incinerating all but some scraps of the fuselage.
Airplanes do occasionally collide with bald eagles, but it isn't a common cause of plane crashes. Williams claims this would be the first incident of a bald eagle causing a fatal accident. However, the investigation is still "in its infancy," so another probable cause could still be discovered.
While bald eagles are one of the most famously endangered species, their population has been consistently increasing. And Alaska boasts the highest bald eagle population in the world. The species is only found in North America, and Alaska claims to have about 30,000 individual birds.
In a sad bit of irony, the pilot happened to be a retired employee of the Federal Aviation Administration.
What do you think caused the Cessna 172 to crash? Is the bald eagle impact the most likely scenario? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.
For more on bald eagles, watch the shocking webcam footage showing a bald eagle feed an adult cat to its babies.
[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]