1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: Passengers rescued
Eric Thayer  /  Reuters
Passengers await rescue after a US Airways plane landed in the Hudson River on Thursday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/15/2009 10:26:54 PM ET 2009-01-16T03:26:54

With both engines out, a cool-headed pilot maneuvered his crowded 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.

The plane, a US Airways Airbus A320 bound for Charlotte, N.C., struck a flock of birds during takeoff minutes earlier at LaGuardia Airport and was submerged up to its windows in the river by the time rescuers arrived in Coast Guard vessels and ferries. Some passengers waded in water up to their knees, standing on the wing of the plane and waiting for help.

"He 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 added.

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.

Police divers had to rescue some of the passengers from underwater, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. Among those on board was one infant who appeared to be fine, the mayor said.

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.

"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 water temperature was 36 degrees, Coast Guard Lt. Commander Moore said. He estimates that hypothermia can hit within five to eight minutes at that temperature.

'Brace for impact'
"The captain said, 'Brace for impact because we're going down,'" passenger Jeff Kolodjay said. He said passengers put their heads in their laps and started praying. He said the plane hit the water pretty hard, but he was fine.

The pilot was identified as Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger of Danville, Calif.

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

"He is the consummate pilot," his wife, Lorrie Sullenberger, told the New York Post. Sullenberger is an U.S. Air Force Academy grad who flew F-4 fighter planes while in the Air Force, she said. "He is about performing that airplane to the exact precision to which it is made."

Image: Chesley "Sully" Sullenburger
MSNBC TV
Flight 1549 pilot "Sully" Sullenberger.
Sullenberger is an airline safety expert who has consulted with NASA and others, according to his resume posted on the Internet. He has 40 years of experience, 29 with US Airways, and hold masters' degrees in public administration and industrial psychology.

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

Another passenger, Fred Berretta, who was on his way home to Charlotte from a business trip, told CNN doors were opened on both sides of the plane "as soon as we hit the water."

Witnesses said the plane's pilot appeared to guide the plane down. Bob Read, a television producer who saw the crash from his office window, said it appeared to be a "controlled descent."

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.

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.

Panicked people
"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.'"

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.

US Airways Flight 1549 took off at 3:26 p.m. It was less than a minute later 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 controller told the pilot to divert to an airport in nearby Teterboro, N.J.

Image: Passengers are rescued after a U.S. Airways plane landed in the Hudson River in New York
Eric Thayer  /  Reuters
Police divers helped in the rescue.
It was not clear why the pilot did not land at Teterboro. 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 confirmed that 150 passengers, three flight attendants and two pilots were on board the jetliner.

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

The plane remained afloat but sinking slowly as it drifted downriver. Gradually, the fuselage went under until about half of the tail fin and rudder was above water. Bloomberg said the aircraft finally wound up near Battery Park, at the lower tip of Manhattan and about four miles from where the pilot ditched it.

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 plane flew through a flock of birds and both engines were damaged. That’s all we know right now,” said Dave Steyer, a technician with the wildlife research office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which helps the FAA study what it calls bird strikes.

Video: Anatomy of a crash Worldwide since 1960, crashes of more than 25 large aircraft were caused by bird strikes, according to a published study by Richard Dolbeer, a retired ornithologist with the Department of Agriculture at the Wildlife Services in Sandusky, Ohio. In 23 of these incidents, the strike occurred below 400 feet.

In the U.S., the FAA tracked more than 38,000 bird strikes from 1990 to 2004, according to a study by Dolbeer. He used data from the FAA's National Wildlife Strike Database for Civil Aviation. He concluded that management of birds should focus on the airport environment.

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 mistakenly took off from the wrong runway in Lexington, Ky.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Video: Inside the story of a textbook landing

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Courtesy Of Danny's Warriors

    6-year-old battling brain tumor gets thousands of birthday cards from strangers

    7/25/2014 9:25:50 PM +00:00 2014-07-25T21:25:50
  1. Courtesy of GreaterGood.org

    Double take! Doggie makeovers reveal shelter pets' true, happy selves

    7/25/2014 9:00:03 PM +00:00 2014-07-25T21:00:03
  1. Israel offers 12-hour pause in Gaza offensive

    According to a U.S. official, Israel has offered to stop fighting for 12 hours in Gaza beginning Saturday morning. It was not immediately clear whether Hamas would also halt hostilities. 

    7/25/2014 7:23:00 PM +00:00 2014-07-25T19:23:00
  1. Wichita foster dad of baby who died in hot car 'wants to die'

    Police were questioning the two foster parents, and two other children were taken into protective custody.

    7/25/2014 9:07:25 PM +00:00 2014-07-25T21:07:25