PIERRE, SD—Sparrow Aviation Administration officials are calling the Monday collision of a westbound sparrow with the window of a Mitchell, SD home a clear case of "controlled flight into glass," after the bird failed to detect a transparent windowpane directly in his flight path.
Howard R. Trojanowski, a Pierre-bound 2-year-old field sparrow who had been licensed to fly since two weeks after he was hatched and had logged over 60,000 flying hours, departed from a ledge near Sioux Falls Regional Airport at 11:04 a.m. CST. Trojanowski never reached his intended tree branch, instead striking a tempered-glass picture window 2.5 miles northwest of Mitchell 74 minutes after takeoff at an estimated speed of 39 mph.
There were no survivors.
SAA Commissioner Vincent Stivolo said the crash was likely due to glass, a "common, yet not fully understood phenomenon" in which an area normally blocked by such barriers as curtains, blinds, or shutters suddenly appears to be an open passage to an indoor facility or an unobstructed extension of the outdoor environment.
Conclusive explanations have historically eluded sparrow-crash investigators, some of whom have themselves apparently fallen victim to the phenomenon. Three investigators dispatched to the Mitchell site failed to show up and have since been reported missing.
"Flight records indicate that Mr. Trojanowski unexpectedly diverted his route above the corner of St. Ray Street and Longfellow Drive, and began a slow descent when he noticed a colorful hanging potted plant about 15 feet below SAA-regulated minimum flying altitude," said Stivolo, a sparrow. "It is at this point that we believe he made the fatal decision to make an unscheduled landing on the plant."
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Trojanowski's wife and four eggs," Stivolo added.
The SAA has officially ruled out sparrow error, finding no evidence that Trojanowski tried to swerve out of the way. Additionally, his Glass Proximity Warning System failed to activate until 0.001 seconds after he came into contact with the glass.
An autopsy performed late Monday evening suggests that Trojanowski's crown struck the impenetrable transparent terrain first, followed by the left wing, which snapped in half on impact.
According to sparrow coroner Stephanie Barlow, an inspection of the scattered wreckage at the crash site revealed no prior damage to the wings, tail, or any other part of Trojanowski.
"This bird was in good, airworthy condition before takeoff for this routine flight—one that he had made literally thousands of times before," Barlow said. "But unfortunately, this happens all too often, even with the most experienced fliers."
Since the advent of the clear glass window in the 16th century, untold billions of birds have been lost or severely injured in similar incidents. In the early 1940s, thousands of brave bluebirds were sent on risky solo missions to break the glass barrier, resulting in the largest full-scale loss of bird life in over 50 years.
The worst individual crash, however, came in 1896, when a flock of migrating birds collided with the bay window of an East Texas mansion, killing all 167 passenger pigeons.
In a ceremony scheduled for Friday, a red and green plastic seed dispenser hanging on a tree at the crash site will be renamed "The Howard R. Trojanowski Memorial Feeder."
As news of the tragedy spread, the SAA reported no drop-off in sparrow flights since the fatal crash.
"Of course it's scary, but I'm not going to stop flying because of it," sparrow Darryl Beardsley said, echoing the apparent sentiment of millions of other sparrows worldwide. "I guess it's just my nature."