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Bird strike causes engine fire and return to airport for an American Airlines jet

The collision and flames, captured on video, apparently disabled one of two engines on the Boeing 737-800 shortly after it took off from Columbus, Ohio.
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An American Airlines flight headed to Phoenix on Sunday morning returned to Ohio's John Glenn Columbus International Airport because a bird strike disabled an engine, officials said.

A post-strike engine fire was captured on cellphone video that has been verified by NBC News. It shows flames from the No. 2 engine licking the airborne plane's right wing.

Takeoff was scheduled for 7:43 a.m., according to tracker FlightAware, and the bird strike happened roughly at 8 a.m., the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

The aircraft turned back to the airport shortly afterward and landed safety, American Airlines said in its own statement.

"The flight landed normally and taxied safely to the gate under its own power," it said. "The aircraft was taken out of service for maintenance and our team is working to get customers back on their way."

The Boeing 737-800 had 173 passengers and crew and was carrying 30,000 pounds of fuel, according to radio traffic with an air traffic controller.

No injuries were reported.

The diverted version of the flight was minutes from landing at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Sunday afternoon, according to FlightAware.

Passenger John Fisher told NBC affiliate WCMH of Columbus that passengers were quickly made aware of the bird strike because of the sounds produced by the collision.

“Apparently we struck a flock of geese and the engine started making real loud ‘clonk, clonk, clonk’ noises,” he said. “They eventually turned the engine off and turned around and went back to the airport.”

Emergency crews responded after the aircraft landed, but the schedule of flights and arrivals at John Glenn Columbus International Airport was not affected, the airport said.

The airport initially blamed an engine fire, but it later said "mechanical issues" prompted the aircraft's return.

For domestic air travel, bird strikes are both commonplace and potentially catastrophic, blamed for 350 deaths over the history of U.S. passenger flight, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

The FAA defines large birds, among the most dangerous elements of nature for pilots, as those that weigh four pounds or more. "There is no aircraft engine certified to ingest a large bird without shutting down," the agency says in a resource paper about the phenomenon.

The bird strike heard around the world took place on Jan. 15, 2009, when an Airbus A320 designated as US Airways flight 1549 from New York City's LaGuardia Airport struck a flock of geese so large it took out both engines and turned the roughly 70-ton aircraft into a glider.

Retired pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger moved fast and aimed the plane for the Hudson River, where his emergency landing was a success without death.

Bird strikes may be on the rise in the U.S. because bird populations have been expanding while aircraft have become quieter, according to the FAA.

The number of Canada geese in the country has tripled in a decade, according to the pilot's association. They weigh an average 12 pounds, it said, and can individually disable engines.

Its advice to pilots is to avoid wetlands, beware of bird migration seasons and patterns, and to always be prepared for bird strikes, as they appear to be inevitable.