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Page last updated at 21:55 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

NY mayor hails 'hero' crash pilot

Passengers await rescue on Hudson river
The plane's crew and rescue teams averted a tragedy, the mayor said

New York's mayor has hailed the pilot of a plane which crashed in the Hudson River with no loss of life as a hero.

Michael Bloomberg said he would be giving "incredibly brave" Captain Chesley Sullenberger and his crew the keys to the city.

Mr Bloomberg also honoured rescuers who pulled all 155 passengers and crew from the US Airways Airbus A320 to safety.

Investigators are now searching for the jet's two engines that have detached and are believed to be in the river.

At a news conference in New York, National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman Kitty Higgins said the agency's crews were using sonar equipment to search for the engines.

Ms Higgins said that rescuers planned to lift the plane from the river on Saturday.

The investigation is then expected to focus on recovering the flight recorders from Flight 1549 and interviewing the crew about what happened after it took off from New York's LaGuardia airport en route to Charlotte, North Carolina on Thursday afternoon.

Capt Sullenberger said earlier that the crash was caused by birds flying into the engines. Investigators say they plan to interview him on Saturday.

One person suffered two broken legs in the crash and paramedics treated 78 patients, most for minor injuries.

'Inspirational'

At a news conference in New York, Mr Bloomberg said Capt Sullenberger had been "incredibly skilful" but would be unable to speak to the media while investigations were continuing.

Map of incident
1 1526 local time (2026 GMT): Flight 1549 takes off from LaGuardia airport
2 1527 (2027 GMT): Pilot Chesley Sullenberger reports birds hitting engines
3 1528 (2028 GMT): Pilot told to land at Teterboro airfield
4 1531 (2031 GMT): Pilot ditches plane in Hudson River

Mr Bloomberg said the writer Ernest Hemingway defined heroism as "grace under pressure".

"I think it's fair to say that Captain Sullenberger displayed that yesterday. His brave actions have inspired millions of people in this city and millions more around the world," he said.

Mr Bloomberg praised the plane's crew

The mayor also presented awards to other uniformed and civilian personnel involved in the rescue.

He said the city's "finest and bravest" workers had made "split-second decisions that resulted in a dramatic rescue".

"Because of their efforts and the calm, steady leadership shown by the plane's pilot and crew, miraculously all 155 people on that plane made it to safety," he said.

The White House said President George W Bush had telephoned Capt Sullenberger to thank him for his actions.

Mr Bush praised the former fighter pilot for his "amazing skills in bringing his plane down safely, for his bravery, and for his heroic efforts to ensure the safety of his passengers and the people in the area," said spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Bird strike

HERO PILOT
US Airways pilot Chesley 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

Passengers from the plane and eyewitnesses have been speaking to the media about their experiences.

"I heard an explosion, and I saw flames coming from the left wing, and I thought, 'this isn't good'," said passenger Dave Sanderson.

"Then it was just controlled chaos. People started running up the aisle. People were getting shoved out of the way."

Another passenger, Billy Campbell, described water rushing into the plane as flight attendants did "a wonderful job" of evacuating everyone.

"It's good to be alive today," said Martin Sosa, a father who had been travelling with two young children and his wife.

"It's hard to believe we just survived that," he said.

Capt Sullenberger is reported to have told air traffic controllers that the plane had experienced a "double bird strike" less than a minute after take-off and asked to return to the ground.

Freezing waters

After crashing on the water, the plane was pulled rapidly down the Hudson River, until it was guided to a halt by tug boats against a pier.

The temperature was almost -7C (19F) and the current in the Hudson was running rapidly.

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

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

Investigators have brought in a giant crane and a barge to help pull the jet out of the river.

Although it is largely under water the plane is still intact, but safety inspectors have said they will need to ensure it is recovered safely and without causing it to break apart.

The Department of Homeland Security has said there was no suggestion that the incident was security related.

Initial witness reports and comments from the pilot suggested the plane may have collided with a flock of geese.

Such bird strikes are fairly common but rarely cause such significant damage to two engines at the same time.



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