Helicopter Pilot: Buzzard Didn’t Leave a Tip

Mid-air collision stuns bird and passengers of a Fort Lauderdale helicopter

Buzzards are the free loaders of the animal world. They also like to bum free rides in the air, according to one helicopter pilot.

Paul Appleton and his helicopter picked up a turkey buzzard as an unexpected passenger mid-air on Super Bowl Sunday while he was flying over Sun Life Stadium.

The amateur aviator videotaped the amazing aftermath of the mid air collision, where you could see the dazed bird trying to figure out how it got into the cockpit of the helicopter.

"It didn't leave a tip, a card, didn't say thank you or anything," joked Appleton, a Cleveland firefighter who spends his winters in Pompano Beach. "I thought the thing was going to die."

Appleton must have run into the Hercules of buzzards because it survived the head-to-windshield collision and didn't take long to come to its senses. The buzzard crashed through the helicopter's windshield at around 90 mph, Appleton estimated.

Still, a calm Appleton avoided wings and beak and piloted the aircraft to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport while a friend in the passenger seat, Tim Markley, held the dazed bird down. They didn't toss the bird out the cockpit because it could have jammed a or damaged a rotor, he said.

"I could still operate it even though it was all over the flight controls," Appleton said.

When the trio landed, the bird took off out of the cockpit and flew across the fenced airport grounds. It disappeaed into the skies before animal rescue officials could showup to examine the bird.

For Appleton, it was a Super Bowl experience he won't soon forget. He said he will be grounded for the next few weeks while his chopper is repaired, but he'll be back in the air before you know it and maybe on the hunt for the free loading buzzard.

"That buzzard owes me about $2,000," he said.

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