By Heather Alexander
BBC News, New York
The plane was forced to make the emergency landing shortly after take-off
It was a jaw-dropping sight for the workers in Manhattan's west side office blocks to see a US Airways passenger plane glide down into the Hudson River.
The 70-tonne airbus 320 appeared to land on the river as if it was a runway, bouncing slightly off the water in a huge splash before settling submerged up to the windows.
Immediately, the city was filled with the sounds of sirens and helicopters flying overhead.
Those watching feared the worst.
Yellow water taxis immediately diverted, but it quickly became clear that this was to become a tale of miraculous escape, not tragic loss.
The plane doors opened and people started stepping out onto the wings, waving to the nearing rescuers.
The floating aircraft was quickly surrounded by coastguard, police and fire service, with divers on hand also helping people into boats.
Some coming from the front doors had to get into the freezing water to reach safety. They were plucked out and sat shivering in blankets, their clothes sopping wet.
Many others managed to get into boats without even getting wet. The wings were packed with people stepping into lifeboats.
They still suffered the cold, though, as the air temperature was almost -7C.
Once on dry land, they told of a terrifying turn of events.
Just minutes after take off, they saw flames streaming from the engines.
Mayor Bloomberg: 'The pilot did a masterful job'
One passenger said the cabin started smelling of gasoline, and a couple of minutes later the pilot said they should brace for a hard impact. Everyone started saying prayers.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the pilot for successfully steering his aircraft over the city's skyscrapers where an impact could have been devastating.
He did "a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure that everybody got out," Mr Bloomberg said.
"He walked the plane twice after everybody else was off and tried to verify that there was nobody else on board."
The word in the city is that the plane hit a flock of birds after it left LaGuardia airport.
BIRD STRIKE DANGER
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
There is alarm that something as common as that could cause both engines of a plane to fail.
The Federal Aviation Administration said there were about 65,000 bird strikes between 1990 and 2005 - one in 10,000 flights.
Retired Delta Airlines pilot Joe Mazzone says: ''They literally just choke out the engine and it quits.''
He said air traffic control towers routinely alert pilots if there are birds in the area.
The FAA has confirmed it received eyewitness reports that a bird strike caused the crash, but US Airways says it will not speculate until it has carried out a full investigation.