There is no evidence that a bird strike caused an engine failure aboard a jetliner carrying actor Leonardo DiCaprio and more than 200 other people as it took off from New York on Sunday, the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday.
Moscow-bound Delta Flight 30 had just taken off from John F. Kennedy airport in Queens when other pilots reported seeing a flash in one engine of the departing plane. The twin-engine Boeing 767 flew out over the Atlantic ocean, dumped part of its fuel and returned safely to the airport.
Such engine failures have drawn special attention from safety officials since January 2009, when a US Airways jet lost both engines and landed in the Hudson River after hitting a formation of birds.
FAA investigators took an initial look at the engine that failed Sunday, and "there was no indication of feathers or anything that would indicate a bird strike," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said.
DiCaprio was traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia, to attend a conference on protecting tigers. He commended the pilot and flight crew for safely landing the plane, his publicist said in a statement.
Delta thanked DiCaprio, who was nominated for an Oscar for portraying airman Howard Hughes in the 2004 film "The Aviator," for the acknowledgment.
"From one aviator to another, thanks for acknowledging our crews' professionalism and focus on safety," Delta said on Twitter.
Moments after takeoff, the flight crew radioed air traffic controllers, "We're declaring an emergency and need to climb out straight ahead, ... We're going to return and land," according to a copy of the radio transmissions provided to The Associated Press by LiveATC.net, which streams such voice traffic from airports.
An air traffic controller asked other departing planes, "Did you see something small come out of the No. 1 engine?"
One pilot reported seeing "some kind of flash." Another said he "witnessed like a flameout and smoke off the back of Delta ... about 300 feet off the ground."
The Delta pilot explained the situation to controllers shortly after: "We've lost the left engine. What we're going to do is we're going to head out to the east right now and get over the water and we'll start dumping some gas."
At that point the plane was flying at an altitude of only 2,000 feet about 25 miles southeast of Kennedy airport but was directed to ascend to 5,000 feet while dumping fuel, the transmissions indicate. Controllers repeatedly advised other airliners in the vicinity that the Boeing 767 was dumping fuel.
As the plane readied for the emergency landing, the pilot reported 74,000 pounds of fuel and 200 "souls" on board. Fire and rescue equipment was standing ready as the plane landed on runway 4 left, the second-longest of JFK's four runways at 11,351 feet.
Black said the jetliner's co-pilot was at the controls at the time of the engine failure and continued through to the landing.