KEMAH, TX (KTRK) --A United States Coast Guard crew member recounted the moment a bird struck his helicopter forcing his crew to make an emergency landing in a Target parking lot.
"During the day, it's a lot easier to avoid them," said US Coast Guard mechanic Tim Christenson. "But during night, we are at the mercy of them seeing us."
Christensen said it only takes one bird to hit the wrong spot on a $9 million helicopter to bring it down.
"It's a very real threat especially when you have the size of a bird that hit us last night," said Christenson.
Thursday, Christenson was one of four crew members on board a coast guard helicopter that was dispatched to an oil rig in the gulf that was struck by a vessel. On the way back , the crew decided to do some low flying training over the gulf waters.
"It was very dark outside and next thing we know we heard an impact. I was pretty loud. It seemed pretty violent," said Christenson.
Christenson said a pelican made a direct hit to the choppers rescue boom, damaging the outer shell.
The bird dead centered seems like right here. We still have some feathers," said Christenson.
Not knowing the full extent of the damage at the time, the crew had to make a collective call. They decided to fly the helicopter to Kemah and land in a Target parking lot. Customers recorded the emergency landing on their cell phones. The crew was able to get out and see the damage and just how close the bird came to bringing the chopper down.
"We are pretty lucky that it didn't hit anything else on the aircraft," said Christenson.
About three feet away from the rescue boom is the helicopters engine intake. About 5 feet away, a strike to the main propeller would have sent a chopper into the water.
"Even worse, it could go through a windshield and take a pilot out," said Christenson.
Christenson said this was a bird strike number three for him and only the past two years.
The aircraft has been fixed. The damage was contained to the outer shell of the rescue boom. The helicopter is back in service.