It is an image straight out of a Hitchcock film – an aeroplane attacked by a swarming flock of birds that was said to have caused serious damage, if one were to believe a social media post that is popular in several countries. In actual fact, it was completely invented using unrelated photos juxtaposed to another.

WARNING: READERS MIGHT FIND SOME OF THE IMAGES BELOW UPSETTING

The pictures have been circulating since Sunday, September 30 on Facebook groups administered by Malian, Beninese and Congolese internet users, and also on WhatsApp. In the main photo, a British Airways aircraft flies through a group of birds. Along with this photo were posted several images of supposed damage to the aeroplane following a collision with the birds. Some pictures purported to show bloodied eagles having pierced the fuselage of the plane. The post did not specify where or when the alleged incident took place.

The authors of the post add:

“ALLAH AKBAR GOD IS GREAT: #Britannique_Air_Line was attacked mid-air by a colony of birds that totally damaged the aircraft. It took a superhuman effort by the pilot to accomplish a forced landing. The whole world is both shocked and amazed because it is the first time in history that such a phenomenon has happened.”

Was a British Airways plane attacked by a flock of birds?

The post is, in fact, a mixture of several photos taken at very different times. A reverse image search for each of the photos (click here to find out how to do this) casts light on the hoax.


The main photo of the flock of birds is genuine. It was taken on 15 June 2004 in Budapest in Hungary. The image can be found on the site “Airliners.net”, the name of which can be seen watermarked on it.

Contacted by FRANCE 24 Observers, the person who took this photo, Adam Samu, administrator of the page Airportal.hu, a Facebook page specialising in aeronautics in Hungary, said:

The photo was taken at Budapest Airport, at runway 31R. It can’t be recent, because the plane is a Boeing 757, which has been retired from British Airways’ fleet for some years now. The birds were on the grass at the airport, and when the plane arrived for take-off, they all of a sudden took flight.

The photo is, in fact, a bit of an optical illusion: the birds are not so close to the plane. They are starlings, which are very common in Hungary. They range in size from 19 to 23 centimetres…so you can see that when compared to the size of the plane, they were not so close to it when it took off. And I can confirm that no bird was hit by the plane and no person was injured.


Photos of various incidents involving birds

All the following photos show incidents that took place much later than the date of the photo taken in Hungary.



For example, this one above, which shows an eagle killed in a collision with a plane, was taken on 16 November 2016 in Saudi Arabia.
 

France 24 has decided to blur the photo so as not to distress sensitive readers. It is available in an unblurred version on the link below.


This one, showing another disturbing accident with an eagle, can be seen on an aviation forum from 2008 (caution, the image is shocking), posted by an American pilot.
 


And the one above first appeared on a Czech website reporting an incident that took place in October 2015 involving a Czech military aeroplane during training manoeuvres in Spain.
 

Are accidents involving birds and planes common?

The claim that that it is “the first time that such an incident has happened” is, then, also not accurate: most of these images are available elsewhere on a website documenting different incidents of bird strikes, which shows that such incidents happen quite regularly.

Though collisions between planes and birds do happen, they usually don’t have serious consequences for passengers. Between 2008 and 2015, the International Civil Aviation Organization recorded 97,751 accidents of this kind throughout the world. But cases of plane crashes related to bird strikes are relatively rare, according to a study carried out over 90 years, from 1912 to 2002, which estimates one accident for every billion hours of flight.

Photos used to tell a “demonic story”

It’s not the first time that these images have been thrown together to tell far-fetched tales. In November 2017, a very popular story shared on social networks in Nigeria and Zambia used the same photos to claim that a plane carrying a group of Christian passengers was struck by a flock of birds in China, evoking “demonic forces”.
 

The post claimed, using the very same photos: “a strange bird attack on five planes carrying Christian believers” and added: “Satanism is real”.


However, no serious media outlet carried this story, which was, once again, completely made up. It proves that photos taken at different times, but thrown together, can be used to depict just about anything.

Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron)