Aviation News

July 8, 2009

JFK Airport Runway Closed Due to Turtles

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Written by: admin
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tmnt-200Not even a half day after severe thunderstorms wreaked havoc on local airport operations, this morning JFK is battling another force of mother nature: Turtles.

Perhaps washed out of their swampy airport-side homes by the rain, a swarm of turtles have wandered onto runway 4L/22R, forcing it to close and causing delays.

From the FAA:

General Departure Delays: Due to OTHER: RWY CONTAMINATION, traffic is experiencing Gate Hold and Taxi delays between 15 minutes and 29 minutes in length and decreasing.

“Normal” taxi times at JFK can approach an hour, so these turtles could mean a solid 90 minutes of rolling around the airport/safari.

JFK Airport is almost entirely surrounded by bays, creeks, swamps and undeveloped land, on which all sorts of wildlife live happily despite the rumbling of aircraft at all hours. It is not unusual to see bird watchers standing beside plane spotters in areas such as Broad Channel Island. Other residents include rabbits, snakes, Canada geese, feral cats, and the occasional runaway show dog.

UPDATE 12:57PM
Port Authority wildlife staff have moved the turtles to a safe location, though there could be residual delays as the shift from runway 4 to runway 31 operations created quite a bottleneck.

UPDATE 11:30PM

  • Other media outlets have picked up the story and confirmed further details with Port Authority officials.
  • The pilot of a flight departing at 9:19am first reported that his plane had hit some turtles on the runway.
  • The runway was closed for 35 minutes while workers collected 78 Diamondback Terrapins. Average size: about 2 lbs and 8 inches long.
  • It’s mating season. They were horny turtles, according to a Port Authority spokesman.
  • The turtles were released at an undisclosed location away from the airport.

Stay tuned for further developments…



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  • Bugsmasher Bob

    That's odd. About two years ago, while taxiing out at JFK, I heard the following exchange between tower and a couple of airliners:

    Tower: Luftansa 123, position and hold runway 4L.
    Lufttansa 123: Ahhh… there is a turtle on the runway.
    Tower: (abruptly) What do you want me to do about it?
    Luftansa 123: Ahhh… roger, position and hold runway 4L, Luftansa 123.
    Tower: Luftansa 123, cleared for takeoff runway 4L.
    Luftansa 123: Cleared for takeoff runway 4L, Luftansa 123.
    Tower: Delta 123, position and hold runway 4L.
    Delta 123: Position and hold runway 4L, Delta 123. The turtle didn't make it.

    I can't speak for the other hundred or so airplanes that were jammed onto the ramp, but the Captain and I were laughing our asses off. Now they're closing runways for turtles?

  • R Burke

    several errors and misleading components. i have studied diamondback terrapins in Jamaica Bay for the last 10 years.
    1.”Perhaps washed out of their swampy airport-side homes by the rain” nope. normal behavior for this species at this type of year
    2. “Port Authority wildlife staff have moved the turtles to a safe location” waste of time, as nesting turtles will come right back. this has to have been happening all along, and they just noticed it.
    3. “It’s mating season. They were horny turtles” Wrong. they mate in the spring (May). they were on land to nest, that's just about the only time they come on land.

  • Thank you for the information. I should have qualified the “mating season” blurb as a statement from a Port Authority spokesman, whose turtle-mating-habits knowledge might be questionable.

  • R Burke

    several errors and misleading components. i have studied diamondback terrapins in Jamaica Bay for the last 10 years.
    1.”Perhaps washed out of their swampy airport-side homes by the rain” nope. normal behavior for this species at this type of year
    2. “Port Authority wildlife staff have moved the turtles to a safe location” waste of time, as nesting turtles will come right back. this has to have been happening all along, and they just noticed it.
    3. “It’s mating season. They were horny turtles” Wrong. they mate in the spring (May). they were on land to nest, that's just about the only time they come on land.

  • Thank you for the information. I should have qualified the “mating season” blurb as a statement from a Port Authority spokesman, whose turtle-mating-habits knowledge might be questionable.

  • Great, sorry I missed it at the time. You could have used the title 'horney turtles hold up flights' !

  • Great, sorry I missed it at the time. You could have used the title 'horney turtles hold up flights' !

  • Great, sorry I missed it at the time. You could have used the title 'horney turtles hold up flights' !

  • Great, sorry I missed it at the time. You could have used the title 'horney turtles hold up flights' !

  • Love the varied information on your site, remarkably useful

  • Is this serious?