NYPD divers rescue passengers from Flight 1549 crash
By David B. Caruso
NEW YORK — A US Airways pilot guided his jetliner into the frigid Hudson River after a flock of birds knocked out both its engines just after takeoff Thursday, and all 155 people on board were pulled to safety as the plane slowly sank. "We had a miracle on 34th Street. I believe now we have had a miracle on the Hudson," Gov. David Paterson said.
One victim suffered two broken legs, a paramedic said, but there were no other reports of serious injuries.
The plane, an Airbus A320 that had taken off minutes earlier from LaGuardia Airport bound for Charlotte, N.C., was submerged up to its windows in the river when rescuers arrived in Coast Guard vessels and ferries. Some passengers waited in water up to their knees, standing on the wing of the plane for help.
Police drivers 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.
The crash took place on a 20-degree day, one of the coldest of the season in New York. State environmental officials estimated the water was 41 degrees.
"It would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river, and then making sure everybody got out," Bloomberg said.
Passenger Jeff Kolodjay of Norwalk, Conn., said he heard a single explosion two or three minutes into the flight. He said looked out the left side of the plane and saw one of the engines on fire.
"The captain said, `Brace for impact because we're going down,'" Kolodjay said. He added: "It was intense. It was intense. You've got to give it to the pilot. He made a hell of a landing."
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.
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 Union. He said the controller told the pilot to divert to an airport in nearby Teterboro, N.J.
The plane splashed into the water roughly off 48th Street in midtown Manhattan.
US Airways CEO Doug Parker confirmed that 150 passengers, three flight attendants and two pilots were on board the jetliner.
An official speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still ongoing identified the pilot as Chelsey B. Sullenberger III. A woman answered and hung up when the AP asked to speak with Sullenberger's family in Danville, Calif.
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.
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 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.