On March 5th, 2023, a suspected bird strike caused one of the engines of a Southwest Airlines flight to catch fire, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Havana, Cuba. The Boeing 737 MAX 8, with registration N8792Q, was operating as flight WN3923 from Havana’s Jose Marti Airport to Fort Lauderdale Hollywood Airport. Shortly after takeoff, the plane reportedly collided with birds, causing damage to the engine and the aircraft’s nose.

Following the collision, smoke was detected in the cabin, and the pilots immediately decided to return to Havana. Passengers reported hearing loud explosion-like sounds, and panic set in as smoke filled the cabin. Videos shared on social media showed some passengers coughing and struggling to breathe, while others appeared to be comforting children and helping fellow passengers.

Thankfully, the pilots of flight WN3923 were able to make a safe emergency landing back in Havana, and all 147 passengers and six crew members were evacuated from the aircraft via slides. Medical staff assessed some minor injuries, but no serious injuries have been reported. Cuban airport officials have stated that an investigation into the incident is currently underway.

Southwest Airlines released a statement commending the swift and professional actions of their pilots and flight attendants in responding to the event. The airline also apologised to customers for the inconvenience caused and offered support. Passengers were accommodated on another flight to Fort Lauderdale, and the airline issued refunds to affected customers.

As of Monday, March 6th, technicians were still assessing the damage to the aircraft. While bird strikes are not uncommon in aviation, they can pose a serious risk to passenger safety. Airlines are required to have procedures in place to manage the risk of bird strikes, and incidents like this highlight the importance of such measures.