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U.S. Airways plane goes down into Hudson River after being hit by birds

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A cool-headed pilot maneuvered his crippled jetliner over New York City and ditched it in the frigid Hudson River on Thursday, and all 155 on board were pulled to safety as the plane slowly sank. It was, the governor said, "a miracle on the Hudson."

One victim suffered two broken legs, a paramedic said, but there were no other reports of serious injuries.

US Airways Flight 1549, an Airbus A320 bound for Charlotte, NC, struck a flock of birds just after takeoff minutes earlier at LaGuardia Airport, apparently disabling the engines.

The pilot, identified as Chesley B "Sully" Sullenberger III of Danville, Calif, "was phenomenal," passenger Joe Hart said. "He landed it — I tell you what, the impact wasn't a whole lot more than a rear-end (collision). It threw you into the seat ahead of you.

"Both engines cut out and he actually floated it into the river," he said.

In a city still wounded from the aerial attack on the World Trade Center, authorities were quick to assure the public that terrorism wasn't involved.

The plane was submerged up to its windows in the river by the time rescuers arrived, including Coast Guard vessels and commuter ferries that happened to be nearby. Some passengers waded in water up to their knees, standing on the wing of the plane and waiting for help.

Helen Rodriguez, a paramedic who was among the first to arrive at the scene, said she saw one woman with two broken legs. Fire officials said others were evaluated for hypothermia, bruises and other minor injuries. An infant was on board and appeared to be fine, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

"We had a miracle on 34th Street. I believe now we have had a miracle on the Hudson," Gov David Paterson said.

The crash took place on a 20-degree day, one of the coldest of the season in New York. The Coast Guard said the water temperature was 36 degrees.

Dave Sanderson, who was flying home to Charlotte after a business trip, said the sound of an explosion was followed by passengers running up the aisle and people being shoved out of the way.

As the plane descended, passenger Vallie Collins tapped out a text message to her husband, Steve: "My plane is crashing." He was desperately trying to figure out whether she had been on the downed plane when the message arrived.

Another passenger, Jeff Kolodjay, said people put their heads in their laps and prayed. He said the captain instructed them to "brace for impact because we're going down."

"It was intense. It was intense. You've got to give it to the pilot. He made a hell of a landing," Kolodjay said.

Witnesses said the pilot appeared to guide the plane down. Barbara Sambriski, a researcher at The Associated Press, watched the water landing from the news organization's high-rise office. "I just thought, 'Why is it so low?' And, splash, it hit the water," she said.

As water slowly filled the cabin, Sanderson said he and another passenger helped people out onto the wing. One woman had a 3-year-old child, he said, and safely tossed the toddler onto a raft before climbing on herself.

One commuter ferry, the Thomas Jefferson of the company NY Waterway, arrived within minutes of the crash, and some of its own riders grabbed life vests and lines of rope and tossed them to plane passengers in the water.

"They were cheering when we pulled up," ferry captain Vincent Lombardi. "We had to pull an elderly woman out of a raft in a sling. She was crying. ... People were panicking. They said, 'Hurry up, hurry up.'"

Paramedics treated at least 78 patients, fire officials said. Coast Guard boats rescued 35 people who were immersed in the frigid water and ferried them to shore. Some of the rescued were shivering and wrapped in white blankets, their feet and legs soaked.

Two police scuba divers said they pulled another woman from a lifeboat "frightened out of her mind" and lethargic from hypothermia. Another woman fell off a rescue raft, and the divers said they swam over and put her on a Coast Guard boat.

The plane took off at 3:26 p.m. for a flight that would last only five minutes. It was less than a minute after takeoff when the pilot reported a "double bird strike" and said he needed to return to LaGuardia, said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. He said the pilot apparently meant that birds had hit both of the plane's jet engines.

The controller told the pilot to divert to an airport in nearby Teterboro, NJ, but it was not clear why the pilot did not land there.

Church said there was no mayday call from the plane's transponder. The plane splashed into the water off roughly 48th Street in midtown Manhattan — one of the busiest and most closely watched stretches of the river.

US Airways CEO Doug Parker said 150 passengers, three flight attendants and two pilots were on board the jetliner.

An official speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still ongoing identified the pilot as Sullenberger. A woman answered and hung up when the AP asked to speak with Sullenberger's family in Danville.

Sullenberger, 57, described himself in an online professional profile as a 29-year employee of US Airways. He started his own consulting business, Safety Reliability Methods Inc, two years ago.

Bank of America and Wells Fargo said they had employees on the plane. Charlotte is a major banking center.

Eric Doten, a Florida aviation safety consultant, said he could not recall another example of a modern jetliner water crash in which everyone survived. He said many things had to go right to avert catastrophe: The plane didn't cartwheel when it hit, the fuselage remained intact, and the fuel did not ignite — in fact its buoyancy probably helped the plane stay afloat.

The plane sank slowly as it drifted downriver. Gradually, the fuselage went under until about half of the tail fin and rudder was above water. A Fire Department boat tugged the plane to the southern tip of Manhattan and docked it there.

The Federal Aviation Administration says there were about 65,000 bird strikes to civil aircraft in the United States from 1990 to 2005, or about one for every 10,000 flights.

"They literally just choke out the engine and it quits," said Joe Mazzone, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot. He said air traffic control towers routinely alert pilots if there are birds in the area.

The Hudson crash took place almost exactly 27 years after an Air Florida plane bound for Tampa crashed into the Potomac River just after takeoff from Washington National Airport, killing 78 people. Five people on that flight survived.

On Dec. 20, a Continental Airlines plane veered off a runway and slid into a snowy field at the Denver airport, injuring 38 people. That was the first major crash of a commercial airliner in the United States since Aug. 27, 2006, when 49 people were killed after a Comair jetliner took off from a Lexington, Ky., runway that was too short.


Associated Press writers Eileen Sullivan, Joan Lowy and Michael J. Sniffen in Washington; Richard Pyle, Adam Goldman, Colleen Long and Deborah Hastings in New York; and Harry R. Weber in Atlanta contributed to this report.

© Wire reports

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

34 Comments
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Geese. Freaking cockroaches of the sky. They stopped migrating completely and now they're here all winter long crapping on every park and golf course that has grass. I say feed the hungry.

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Reminds me of a friend who was flying an F111 Aadvark many years ago. Him and his navigator were flying a flat-of-the-earth mission down some valley in backwoods Australia (South QLD). They flew over a dam at about 700kts and scared the hell out of some geese, a number of whom were sucked into the engines, which both flamed out. My friend said it was scary flying in an Aircraft at that speed with no sound. Both crew punched out at minimum altitude. Friend walk away from the accident, navigator broke his back. Scary stuff bird strikes.

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WOW, the pilot did an outstanding job. Today's Hero. < :-)

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Good job to the pilot. They call that a birdshot, and it's reported in other articles that birds may have been sucked into both engines. It's amazing this kind of thing doesn't happen more often.

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such a simple thing as a bird can take down a jet liner. And people laugh when I say I hate flying.

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American pilots are good! Those passengers are also lucky that NYC had rescue crews and boast out to rescue them so quickly.

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Truely great flying by the pilots. Of course they didn't wanna die either :) but on a serious note, amazing job and thank goodness everyone survived!

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Full marks to the pilot.

I'm all for a cull on birds.

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Makes you wonder why they spend these billions of dollars on anti-aircraft missile systems, maybe cheaper to train flocks of birds to get in the way ...

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The plane was submerged in the icy waters up to the windows when rescuers in Coast Guard vessels and ferry boats arrived, opened the door and pulled passengers in yellow life vests from the aircraft, whose fuselage appeared intact.

Can you imagine the debate among passengers about whether to open the doors or not? Probably good they were still arguing when rescuers arrived!

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I just saw some photos on the BBC website. Absolutely amazing nobody died, and full credit to those involved in the rescue.

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Can you imagine the debate among passengers about whether to open the doors or not? Probably good they were still arguing when rescuers arrived!

inaccurate as usual. the passengers had departed the aircraft and took refuge on the wings prior to the rescuers arrival. what is this guy talking about?

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NEws update,

In response to yesterdays attack of a US commercial airliner by an unknown group of birds, the Dep. of Homeland Security has tightened its regulations regarding the freedom of passage of any and all species of birds wishing to travel to the continental US by air. According to and unidentified source 'it is simply not acceptable that anything can just violate American airspace without proper permission and without submitting in their fingerprints...................'

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This is such a remarkable event in aviation history. While they were designed to make water landings none were successful until this one. Have an aviation background and never expected to read such a story. Well Done to the aircraft flight crew, air traffic controllers, ferry operators, NY fire department, NYPD, US coast guard, rescue vehicles, area hospitals and more. There is more than a single hero, people who set all aside to helps others at a moments notice are heros as well. The mystery of how all of the people from different backgrounds could work tougher with a common cause, this gives me a sense of wonder. Sure a lot of it was professional but there were a lot of volunteer help. Well Done!!!

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A little bit about the pilot, Chesley B. Sullenburger III:

Flew F-4s for the U.S. Air Force from 1973 to 1980. Flight Leader and Training Officer with experience in Europe, Pacific and at Nellis AFB, serving as Blue Force Mission Commander in Red Flag Exercises. Sullenburger spent years as an Air Line Pilots Association Local Air Safety Chairman, national technical committee member and accident investigator -- where he participated in several NTSB investigations of major aircraft accidents.

Sullenburger's resume here:

http://www.aolcdn.com/tmz_documents/sullenberger_profile.pdf

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VOR. Thank you for that correction. Watched the whole thing from my office as well.

Yuri. You are absolutely spot on. Thats why we moved back here and won't leave anytime soon. By the way, good luck in Japan

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@timoborder

Both crew punched out

If I recall correctly, on a F111 there is no other way to do it, since the whole cockpit and part of the wings separate as a "sled" with both occupants inside.

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The old debate about four engines being no better than two rears its head. Even a third engine at the tail may have given them enough power to circle round.

The airbus has a little wind-driven propellor which generates back-up electricity for power to continue to operate the flaps, I believe, when the engines lose power.

This crash will definitely have tested every safety system to the limit, and investigators will have learned quite a bit from this accident, I should imagine.

Why don't jet engines have a slanted steel net over the intakes to 'bounce' birds etc. off them, I wonder?

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Why don't jet engines have a slanted steel net over the intakes to 'bounce' birds etc. off them, I wonder?

You would think that something as simple as a properly angled and installed rigid steel mesh guard would do the trick.

S

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it would have to be thin, light and allows sufficient airflow. not a lot of materials out there tha would not get obliterated with an 8lb bird hitting it at take-off speeds.

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inaccurate as usual. the passengers had departed the aircraft and took refuge on the wings prior to the rescuers arrival. what is this guy talking about?

VOR--You don't read quotes? I quoted the article. It clearly said:

The plane was submerged in the icy waters up to the windows when rescuers in Coast Guard vessels and ferry boats arrived, opened the door and pulled passengers in yellow life vests from the aircraft, whose fuselage appeared intact.

If the article has changed since I read it, its not my fault. Now, if you wish to apologize, I am all ears.

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Any landing you can walk -- or swim -- away from...

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Amazing. Split-second decision making and balls of steel, this guy deserves his hero mantle. Nothing at all like the second class pilots I'm used to at Ryanair, who's regular landings are a bone-shaking experience oft leading me to wonder whether they've actually been up all night drinking....

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kudos to the pilot. Saw on the news tonight that he checked the plane twice that there were no more passengers before he left. And landing in a river in a city of skyscrapers. The pilot, I take my hat of to you. May my next flight be under your guidance.

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Excellent! Landing, that is! High Fives all around!

Gosh, don't these birds have anything better to do than fly into jet engines? I thought they had these "eyes" painted on them to scare them away...

Even with no deaths or serious injuries, I wonder how much is this accident going to cost US Airways...

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Trust me, lads, if there were a simple solution like a thin wired mesh that could cover the engines, it would have been in place LONG ago. First there's the problem with airflow... even the slightest bit of interference in front of the engine at those speeds would cause some of the air to be pushed around the engine instead of going directly into it -- this is the nature of wind pressure and intake. From a more parts-related standpoint, having mesh would involve having further removable and therefore potentially problematic parts. What's more, they would have to be taken off (or slid out) after each flight for cleaning because any dirt or matter that stuck to them would further block air to the engine, which would result in delays in the plane being used. And finally, they would have to find a way to ensure that while the part is removable (for cleaning and also for access to the engines for cleaning) there is no danger it itself would get sucked into the engine.

Anyway, this guy rocks. Amazing.

I do find it funny that the headline/article claims that the plane was 'hit by birds' as though they intended it, while in reality the plane flew into a flock of birds.

All the same, good job, pilot.

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Methinks a medal of some sort is in order. Do we still do ticker-tape parades, or is that considered enviromentally unfriendly now?

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Even with no deaths or serious injuries, I wonder how much is this accident going to cost US Airways...

And interesting question. Of course the passengers are just happy to be alive right now. It won't be long before a few of them have greed kick back in, and start thinking of suing. I am sure some lawyers are trying to get access to some of their ears right now...

Plus, they lost a plane. I doubt that one will be flying again.

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Does anyone know why the aircraft was able to remain afloat and not sink?

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smartacus - The aircraft was filled with, ahem, air, which is lighter than water, and that's what kept it afloat.

Your question reminds me of that scene from Midnight Run:

Jonathan Mardukas( faking fear of flying on a 747 ): It can't fly! It's too big! It can't go up!

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One up for EU's airbus A320 and the pilot. The plane can float with just enough time to escape, when landing on water. Why don't they make aircrafts, that can land in sea/water anymore.

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It's not called a "birdshot" like some drunk posters tell us, it's called a "birdstrike". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_strike No aircraft has a mesh on the intake as far as I know of. The same poster of the "birdshot" comment speculated rather accurately about the reasons for this. The biggest is itself and it's fasteners becoming a FOD hazards.

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This story is far from over. The PETA crazies on the Left smell blood. They are incensed. Birds died, humans lived. That is intolerable for these weirdos. Most galling of all is that an elderly white male - an Air Force combat veteran! - emerges as the hero.

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I want to see Sully get a metal. Hell, give them to the entire crew. They earned it!

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