Natural Collection Used in Hudson River Plane Crash Investigation

The Smithsonian Institution’s natural science collection has been used to successfully identify the species and origin of the birds which are implicated in the January 15, 2009 plane crash of US Airways flight 1549.  All 150 passengers and five crew survived the plane’s crash landing into the icy Hudson River.  Researchers at the Smithsonian’s Feather Identification Laboratory compared feathers from the crash site to feathers in the Institution’s collection and used molecular genetic techniques to determine that the flock of birds the plane struck while taking off from La Guardia Airport were Canada geese.  Molecular analysis by the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute labs further honed in on the origins of the birds.  Stable isotope analysis revealed that the birds were from the Labrador region of Canada and not residents of the New York City area.  Information on whether the birds were residents vs. migratory is critical for minimizing the risk of bird strikes with planes.  The results of the research can be read in the June 8, 2009 issue of Frontiers in Ecology and Environment.