Local News

Miracle on the Hudson

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The passengers of Flight 1549 were soaked and freezing, but they were also alive.

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

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.

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.

The pilot, identified as Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III, is credited with saving all of the passengers.

"You've got to give it to the pilot," said Jeff Kolodjay of Norwalk, Conn., who was aboard the US Airways jet that ditched in the frigid Hudson River after an apparent collision with a flock of birds. "He made a hell of a landing."

"I can't believe he managed to land that plane," echoed Alberto Panero, a passenger who spoke to CNN by telephone.

Kolodjay, 31, who had been headed to a golfing trip in Myrtle Beach, N.C., said he noticed a jolt and felt the plane drop. He looked out the left side of the jet and could see one of the engines on fire.

"Then the captain said, 'Brace for impact because we're going down,"' Kolodjay said. "It was intense." He said some passengers started praying. He said a few Hail Marys.

"It was bad, man," Kolodjay said. But he and others spoke of a sense of calm and purpose that quickly descended on the passengers and crew as the plane started filling with water and rescue boats swarmed to the scene. They decided women and children would be evacuated first.

Sullenberger, 58, 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.

Air Traffic Control reports the plane after takeoff reached 3,000 feet before heading towards the river. The plane had reached a speed of 178 mph.

"We understand that there were eyewitness reports the plane may have flown into a flock of birds," Brown said. She said the left turn is the "the normal takeoff procedure from that runway. ... They were in a normal configuration."

"Right now we don't have any indication this was anything other than an accident," Brown said.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of 20 investigators to New York to look into the crash. Board spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said the on-scene segment of crash investigations usually takes five to seven days.

Passenger Jeff Kolodjay of Norwalk, Conn., said he heard an explosion two or three minutes into the flight, looked out the left side of the Airbus 320 and saw one of the engines on fire.

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

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

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an experienced pilot, said he had spoken with the pilot and a passenger who claimed to be the last one off the plane.

"It would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river, and then making sure everybody got out," the mayor said at a news conference.

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Bloomberg said most of the rescued were picked up right away and put on police, Coast Guard and ferry boats. Police divers did have to rescue a few people from underwater, he said.

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.

ABC News learned 30 seconds after the pilot was handed off from the tower to the next controllers he reported two bird strikes and he wanted to return to LaGuardia.

"You never prepare for anything like this," said one survivor.

The plane, which was over New Jersey at the time, was ordered to return to LaGuardia. The pilot saw Teterboro airport outside of the plane, but obviously never made it.

According to authorities, the Airbus pilot was in communication with the tower, reported that he was having trouble controlling the plane, then looped around once, giving the passengers time to prepare for the impact, one senior airport police official said. He then went off the radar and put the plane down on the river.

One witness says he saw flames coming from the number one engine

Ferries rescued passengers, some who were seen standing on the wings of the plane.

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

Joe Mazzone, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot, said it is not unusual for birds to strike planes. In fact, he said, when planes get ready to take off, if there are birds in the area, the tower will alert the crew.

"They literally just choke out the engine and it quits," Mazzone said.

An emergency room doctor from St. Vincent's told Eyewitness News about the rescued air passengers.

"It's a bad day to have this happen. much like the DC crash in the 1980's this is a bad combination of cold air, cold water and wind." He said.

The plane was submerged in the icy waters up to the windows, and rescue crews had opened the door and were pulling passengers in yellow life vests from the plane.

The plane was floated downstream until going under about 30 minutes after the crash.

Individuals who believe they may have family members on board flight 1549 may call US Airways at 1-800-679-8215 within the United States.

Members of the public who find luggage or other property they believe to be related to US Airways Flight 1549 are asked to call 311 to be connected to appropriate police personnel. Callers from outside of the five boroughs of New York City are asked to call (212) NEW-YORK.

Twenty-seven years ago this week, an Air Florida plane bound for Tampa crashed into the Potomac River after hitting a bridge just after takeoff from Washington National Airport. The crash on Jan. 13, 1982, killed 78 people including four people in their cars on the bridge. Five people on the plane 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.

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