Continental Flight 1559 had just taken off from Reagan National Airport en route to Houston when it reportedly radioed, "We just hit some birds. We lost our No. 1 engine," NBC Washington's Chris Gordon reported.
A fire was reported in the engine, so it was diverted back to Dulles.
Across the Potomac River at the D.C. Fire and EMS training center, recruit Gene Ryan saw the jetliner and heard the engine trouble.
"I saw flames from the left engine, and heard a series of bangs," he said. "The plane seemed to lose altitude and list to the right. I ran inside and told my sergeant."
Sgt.Gary Penny radioed dispatch to report the possibility that a plane was going down in the Potomac River, Gordon reported. The call triggered a full D.C. Fire and EMS response for a possible plane crash.
But there was no plane crash to be found, and at 7:55 a.m., just 15 minutes after the engine trouble was reported, the Continental 737 landed safely at Dulles. The crew of six and all 44 passengers deplaned. The passengers were rebooked to Houston.
Continental Airlines confirmed to NBC Washington that it was a bird strike that caused the engine failure. It brought back memories of the Miracle on the Hudson on Jan. 15, 2009, when bird strikes disabled both engines on a US Airways flight resulting in a heroic landing on the river.
The Continental flight had its moments of drama, but luckily, a safe and uneventful landing.
Operations at Dulles were not disrupted and there were no delays as a result of the engine troubles caused by the bird strike.
No injuries were reported.