Tragedy on the Hudson
Two well known seagulls, Gertrude and Heathcliff died tragically yesterday after being obliterated over the Hudson River in separate engines of a U.S. Airways Airbus A320.The two had been caught up ,by mistake , with a flock of migrating Canadian Geese.The plane, of course, landed safely on the river with no deaths reported. The suspect in the brutal slayings, Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III is being held by New York City Police pending the probable filing of charges against him for Cruelty to Animals.Sullenberger, 57,has no prior Police record although U.S. Air (known in the bird community as “Useless Air”) has been involved in a large number of bird related deaths over the years. Passengers on the plane, some interviewed standing on its wings were outraged by the accident claiming that a large flock of geese had been viewed in plenty of time to avoid the accident. “It was like he steered right into them.” Said John Arnez of Bolling Green Kentucky, “I’ll never forget the bloodcurdling squawk and the cloud of white feathers emerging from the two engines.”
Gertrude and Heathcliff were a bird comedy team, best known for the parodies done of them by Red Skelton on his television show in the 50s and 60s. As many will remember, in every monologue, Skelton would mess up his hair, widen his lips horizontally and stick his hands under his armpits in what was later regarded as a tasteless imitation of a mentally subnormal seagull. Skelton would then begin. “Two Seagulls, Gertrude and Heathcliff” and proceed to tell a moronic joke based on a dialogue between the two birds. The late birds were well compensated by Skelton for the act, most of the material being provided by the gulls themselves. As the years have passed and societal mores have changed, networks have banned those parts of the Skelton show from airing because of charges of speciesism by a younger gull generation.
The celebrity of the victims has underscored the continuing problem in the bird community of death by jet engine. In the United States alone last year, six thousand birds were killed by engines in domestic airline flights, an additional 4,000 by military flights. Most experts believe that the 10,000 death total is very conservative as a substantial number of birds, particularly pigeons, go unaccounted for around airports every year. Said one sparrow, who refused to give her name, “It is outrageous that it takes the death of a couple of old “Step& Fetchit” Gulls to get the world to focus on the enormity of this problem. I have been dodging planes my entire life and have lost dozens of family members to jet engines and no one has said a word. Sullenberger (if that really is his name) will get a slap on the wrist for this, the Animal Cruelty statute in New York carries a maximum sentence of two years.”
Attorneys for Sullenberger warned against a quick rush to judgment against their client, blaming the death on outmoded engine safety standards for jet engines. Bird safety experts have pointed out for years that by simply adding grates over each engine, most bird deaths can be avoided. Safety Advocate Ralph Raven has said, “For Christ sake, humans have put grates on box fans for almost a hundred years in order to protect injuries to children’s fingers, they can’t do it to save 10,000 bird lives annually ?” Airline officials have long pointed out that the installation of grates on their jet fleets would add about twocents to ticket prices for each person who flies and have reasoned that “there is not a seagull in the country worth two cents to anyone”. The death of Gertrude and Heathcliff, beloved by humans, or at least those old enough to remember Red Skelton, is expected to revive interest in grate legislation, previously introduced by Senator Byrd of West Virginia, a Senate bird activist for years.
Services for the pair are pending but attendance is expected to be heavy, among the honorary pall bearers are Gertrude and Heathcliff’s close friends Heckle and Jeckle, the talking magpies, as well as Red Skelton characters Sheriff Deadeye, Freddy the Freeloader and the Mean Wittle Kid (“If I doo it I dit a whipin’…. I dood it !” and possibly relatives of the turkeys who were chopped up in back of the Sarah Palin interview. In memory of the deceased, the Skelton Estate has announced the releasing of a series of videos featuring the monologues of Gertrude and Heathcliff, unseen on commercial television for over twenty years. The box set is expected to sell for $49.95 and will not be available in stores, but only from late night T.V. ads.