Release #11.22
August 18, 2011

Alaska Airlines Crew to Receive ALPA’s Superior Airmanship Award
Pilots Recognized for Safely Handling Bird Strike in Sitka, Alaska

WASHINGTON―Alaska Airlines Capt. Steve Cleary of Federal Way, Wash., and F/O Michael Hendrix of Seattle will be honored by the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), for their superb handling of a bird strike during takeoff at Sitka, Alaska last year. The pilots will receive the Association’s Superior Airmanship Award on August 18 at ALPA’s 57th Air Safety Forum Awards Banquet in Washington, D.C.

F/O Paul Stuart, chairman of the ALPA unit representing Alaska pilots, congratulated the pilots, saying, “Their swift action, clear thinking, and excellent teamwork kept everyone aboard safe. Situations like this are what we, as professional pilots, train for, and they did their jobs perfectly."

Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport in southeast Alaska has a single 6,500-foot, rock-rimmed runway that is nearly surrounded by the Gulf of Alaska. Pilots often refer to it as USS Sitka because of its resemblance to the deck of an aircraft carrier. Because of nearby mountains, winds swirl around Sitka in such a way that can produce tailwinds at both ends of the runway simultaneously.

The weather in Sitka, challenging on a good day, was miserable on August 8, 2010. A low pressure system off the coast had pulled thick rain clouds over Baranof Island and the Sitka airport, and clouds hung low over the mountains and trees to the east. Capt. Cleary and F/O Hendrix were piloting Alaska Airlines Flight 68, Boeing 737-400 service from Sitka, Alaska, to Seattle, that day.

The airplane was full, carrying 134 passengers, five crewmembers, and a full cargo hold. The 132,000 pounds on board, combined with the short runway in Sitka, meant that Capt. Cleary and F/O Hendrix would have to use special takeoff procedures to maximize the takeoff capabilities of their B-737. As they accelerated down the runway, at 100 knots, Capt. Cleary saw an eagle directly in the path ahead. Seconds later, at 130 knots―approximately 150 miles per hour―the eagle smashed into the left engine, which exploded and burst into flames.

The aircraft lurched left. Quickly and calmly, Capt. Cleary called out, "Abort! My aircraft!" and swiftly started emergency procedures to abort the takeoff and maintain control of the yawing B-737-400. As Capt. Cleary fought to stop the airplane, F/O Hendrix kept him apprised of the aircraft's speed and distance to the end of the runway. The heavy airliner stopped at the very end of the runway.

“This could have had a tragic ending, but for a split-second decision and meticulous execution of the aborted take-off that safely brought the aircraft to a stop before the end of the runway. The prevention of a hull loss and the fact that no one was injured speaks to the tremendous professionalism of our crew,” said Alaska Airlines System Chief Pilot Capt. Tom Kemp.

“Capt. Cleary and F/O Hendrix performed their duties flawlessly,” said Capt. Lee Moak, president of ALPA. “The actions they took in the harrowing seconds after the bird strike exemplify the ultimate measure of the pilots’ skill, training, teamwork, and professionalism.”

Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilots union, representing more than 53,000 pilots at 39 airlines in the United States and Canada.


CONTACT: ALPA Media, 703/481-4440, or