Page last updated at 11:28 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Pilot hailed for 'Hudson miracle'


Passengers are rescued from the plane's wings

The pilot of an airliner that ditched in New York's Hudson River has been hailed a hero after all 155 passengers and crew were rescued.

The US Airways Airbus A320 made the crash-landing minutes out of LaGuardia airport, both its engines apparently disabled by a flock of birds.

Passengers were rescued from the wings or helped from the icy water by divers.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger was praised by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his "masterful" landing.

The state governor spoke of a "miracle on the Hudson".

US Airways pilot Chelsey B Sullenberger III (image from Safety Reliability Methods website)
Chesley B 'Sully' Sullenberger III
Age 57, from Danville, California
Former Air Force fighter pilot
29 years with US Airways
Has own consulting business, Safety Reliability Methods Inc

The BBC's Greg Wood reports from New York that it was a true delivery from disaster, a commercial airliner forced to ditch in the river just next to the skyscrapers of mid-town Manhattan but with no fatalities.

One person suffered two broken legs and paramedics treated 78 patients, most for minor injuries but, through a combination of luck, the skill of the pilot and a rapid emergency response, 155 people have had a very narrow escape, our correspondent says.

Air accident investigators are in New York to probe the cause of the incident.

'Everyone counted out'

Flight 1549 departed LaGuardia en route to Charlotte, North Carolina, at 1526 local time (2026 GMT), after delays, said Laura Brown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We believe it was airborne for three minutes after take-off when it crashed into the Hudson River," she said.

The pilot reported a "double bird strike" less than a minute after take-off and asked to return to the ground, before ditching in the Hudson, an air controllers union spokesman said.

Map of incident
1526 local time (2026 GMT): Flight 1549 takes off from LaGuardia airport

1527 (2027 GMT): Pilot Chesley Sullenberger reports birds hitting engines

1528 (2028 GMT): Pilot told to land at Teterboro airfield

1531 (2031 GMT): Pilot ditches plane in Hudson River

Ferryboats arrived within minutes of the crash to begin the rescue as passengers emerged in life jackets.

The temperature was almost -7C and the current in the Hudson was running rapidly.

Large passenger jets can withstand being hit by a 4lb (1.8kg) bird, but problems can arise with flocks of small birds, or with larger birds
219 people have been killed worldwide as a result of wildlife strikes since 1988
In 2007, over 7,600 birds and other wildlife were reported to have hit civil aircraft in the US
Bird strikes cause $600m damage to aircraft in the US every year
Source: Bird Strike Committee USA

The plane moved rapidly down river, threatening to submerge at one point, until guided to a halt by tug boats against a pier.

"It would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river, and then making sure that everybody got out," Mr Bloomberg said on Thursday evening.

"I had a long conversation with the pilot. He walked the plane twice after everybody else was off and tried to verify that there was nobody else onboard. And assures us there were not."

The mayor also commended emergency services, saying: "They train for these kinds of emergencies, and you saw it in action."

New York Governor David Paterson said: "I think that in simplicity, this is really a potential tragedy that may have become one of the most spectacular days in the history of New York City's agencies."

Bracing for impact

Stephanie Nachman, who works in a high-rise building in Times Square, said she had seen the plane crash.

Eyewitness accounts of NY crash

"It wasn't wild or erratic but if as it was landing on a runway," she said.

Within minutes, she added, people got out, doors popped out and rafts unfurled.

Jeff Kolodjay, a passenger on the plane, described the moments before the landing:

"About three or four minutes into the flight... the left engine just blew... flames coming out of it and I was looking right at it cos I was sitting right there.

"And it just started smelling a lot like gasoline and a couple of minutes after that the pilot said 'you guys gotta brace for a hard impact'.

"And that's when everyone started, to be honest, saying prayers and we looked over the water and we thought we had a chance because, you know, there's some water."

Moments after impact, the situation inside the plane was "just controlled chaos", said passenger Dave Sanderson, of Charlotte.

"People started running up the aisle, people were getting shoved out of the way," he said.

Another passenger, Alberto Panero, said that a couple of people then "just kind of took charge and calmed everyone".

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