A Ryanair flight was forced to make an emergency landing at one of Italy's busiest airports yesterday after it flew into a flock of birds.
The aircraft, which was carrying 166 passengers, suffered "substantial damage" and engine problems as it came in to land at Ciampino airport in Rome at 8am.
The airport, Rome's second-largest, was forced to close and was not expected to reopen until today. Some passengers had to exit the aircraft using inflatable chutes after the landing gear on one side of the Boeing 737 collapsed, preventing it from being towed away. Two cabin crew members and eight passengers were taken to hospital with minor injuries.
One passenger said: "On our final descent, suddenly we saw smoke coming out of the engine. The airplane went a little up and fell down rapidly on the ground. People were crying ... it was terrible, it was a bad experience."
Ryanair engineers examined the aircraft, which was carrying passengers on flight FR4102 from Frankfurt. The Italian Aviation Authority has also launched a full investigation.
A spokeswoman for Ryanair said: "Landing gear suffered substantial damage on landing, which will delay the aircraft being removed from the runway for some hours.
"As a result Rome Ciampino Airport has been closed to all flights. Ryanair sincerely apologises to all passengers affected."
The airline said that Ryanair flights were being diverted to Rome's other main hub, Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport at Fiumicino, until Ciampino was reopened. Another statement was expected this morning.
A pilot is normally expected to abort a landing if the aircraft he or she is controlling is unstable in the final moments before touching down. However, it appears the birds were not spotted until it was too late yesterday, leaving the Ryanair captain with no option but to fly through them.
Bird strikes are a common problem at international airports and often occur during take-offs or landings. Large birds with big populations such as gulls and geese are usually responsible but yesterday's drama was more likely caused by a flock of starlings, according to reports.
Baggage-handlers were unable to remove passengers' luggage from the Boeing while it was being examined.
A photograph of the jet on Ryanair's website appeared to show red marks on the nose cone and wings, presumably bloodstains from the birds.
The incident is the latest in a line of problems to hit the Irish budget airline. In August, 16 people were taken to hospital after a Bristol-to-Barcelona flight suffered a sudden loss of cabin pressure and was diverted to Limoges in France. Later that month, another jet had to make an emergency landing after a passenger had an allergic reaction to a jar of mushroom soup stored in an overhead bin.
The German, who was travelling from Budapest to Dublin, suffered a severely swollen neck.