SASKATOON – A raccoon that scurried into the duct system of an Air Canada jet that was set to leave for Toronto caused a seven-hour flight delay.
Ground crews in Saskatoon were connecting an air-conditioning unit to the plane Thursday night and apparently disturbed the furry bandit who had been inside the unit’s hose.
“Our crews worked with the animal control experts to extricate the animal which was unharmed,” Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said Friday in an email. “This is the first time we’re aware of such an incident.”
Damien Lee, one of 79 passengers, said the flight was due to leave Saskatoon at 2:50 p.m. He said that before passengers boarded, he could see a worker looking spooked as he was inspecting the jet. The worker talked to his colleagues and then started taking pictures under the plane.
Passengers initially thought it was funny.
“For the most part, it was novelty,” said Lee, an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan, who was heading to Toronto to hunt for an apartment.
“People were guessing what it was at first. They were like, you know, holding mock bets, not really for real, but they were wondering and shouting out their ideas of what it could be.”
Pilots came down to assess the scene and, within an hour, animal control experts were brought in to try to catch the raccoon. Workers started taking panels off the plane with screwdrivers and hand drills, Lee said.
Handlers brought out instruments that looked like lassos to try to snag the animal, he said.
“It was a circus,” Lee said in a phone interview from Toronto where the flight finally landed at 3 a.m.
“What can you do? It’s not like somebody did this on purpose. This is an animal in there.”
Eventually, the raccoon dropped out and was escorted off the property unharmed, said Andrew Leeming, vice-president of operations at the airport. Leeming added that it was like herding cattle.
How the raccoon got into the unit’s hose is still a mystery.
“It might have been in the ground equipment,” Leeming said. “It’s unlikely that it would have travelled from Toronto, but at the same time, we don’t see raccoons around the property, ever. That was kind of unusual.”
Air Canada said it carried out a full aircraft maintenance inspection before the flight finally took off at 10 p.m.
Even though this wasn’t Lee’s longest flight delay, he said it was definitely his weirdest airplane experience.
“It was like, ‘How the hell did that even get in there?'”
— By Ryan McKenna in Regina. Follow @RyanBMcKenna on Twitter