Turtles on Runway Cause Airport Slowdown

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Air traffic controllers held up flights so turtles could be removed from the runway at JFK on Wednesday. Listen to the audio here. (Published Wednesday, Jun 29, 2011)

    Travelers were delayed at John F. Kennedy Airport Wednesday morning after about 150 turtles ambled onto a runway and blocked air traffic from moving.

    JetBlue first tweeted news of the slowdown, with the hashtag #cantmakethisup.

    The Port Authority later confirmed that workers had to clear the notoriously slow reptiles out of the area. The migration is a familiar occurrence at the airport, which is located near Jamaica Bay. The turtles typically head out of the bay to nest on the beach each summer.

    The turtles were mostly gathered on runway 4L, plus nearby taxiways, starting at about 6:45 a.m., the Port Authority said.

    "They're coming out on the runway because they're looking for a place to lay their eggs," said Russell Burke, a reptile specialist at Hofstra University.

    Pilots radioed about the interruption, according to air traffic audio recordings on LiveATC.net.

    "American 1009, there's a report of a turtle on the runway. Do you want to have it removed first?" went one communication.

    Then, a moment later, the same flight was advised "there's another one on the runway."

    "Thank you," comes the chuckling response.

    A JetBlue flight to Rochester, N.Y., then radioed in: "Located right now to the right of us, there's a turtle also."

    The turtles were identified as diamondback terrapins.

    Perhaps if they had been snapping turtles -- the New York state reptile since 2006 -- they would have been given official clearance to stay.

    The runway turtles aren't the first animals to complicate air traffic at New York City airports.

    The city has sought to reduce the local geese population in recent years, following the crash of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which sucked geese into its engines and had to land in the Hudson River.

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