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January 15, 2009

Miracle On the Hudson: US Airways A320 Ditches In River, All 155 On Board Safe

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A US Airways flight lost power in both engines shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport this afternoon, forcing the pilots to guide the Airbus A320 to an amazingly smooth stop on the Hudson River near 50th Street. Nearby commuter ferries rushed to the jet and safely evacuated all 155 passengers and crew on board, including one infant. It was the first jet airliner in history to make a water landing without any loss of life.

US 1549, en route to Charlotte, NC (CLT), lifted off from LGA’s Runway 4 at 3:26pm, and according to a number of online flight tracking services, headed north while climbing to about 3,200 feet over the Bronx. Records show the jet suddenly stopped climbing and made a sharp turn to the south. As the aircraft flew down the river, it descended quickly, passing just 900 feet above the George Washington Bridge. Eyewitnesses described a very smooth and controlled touchdown onto the frigid Hudson. “The way they hit it was very gradual. A very slow contact with the water,” according to one witness interviewed by CNN.

Photo by Janis Krums

Shot from the first ferry to arrive to the plane. (Photo by Janis Krums)

Shortly after landing, passengers could be seen standing on the wings and sitting in one of the plane’s rafts in what seemed to be a calm, yet undoubtedly very cold, evacuation. In the span of a few minutes the aircraft was surrounded by ferries and other boats which rushed to the scene. All on board were safely on shore in less than an hour.

Initial reports indicate the crew encountered a flock of birds during ascent, which would be one of the very few possible explanations for a dual engine loss. Other reports suggested the pilots first thought they should attempt to land at Teterboro Airport (TEB) in New Jersey, but may have decided they did not have enough altitude to make it there safely.

Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, III, the captain of the doomed plane, is being widely lauded as a hero for this rarest of rare aviation accomplishments: According to the Wall Street Journal, this is the first water landing in modern commercial air travel that has resulted without a single fatality. Sullenberger is a 29 year US Airways veteran, former fighter pilot and USAF Academy grad with extensive qualifications related to aviation safety, including owning his own safety consulting firm. A “Fans of Sully Sullenberger” fan club has already been created in his honor on Facebook.

The Airbus A320-214, registration N106US, was delivered in 1999 and formerly operated as a US Airways Shuttle aircraft. After stopping in Charlotte, the aircraft was scheduled to continue to Seattle under the same flight number.

Not only did passengers and rescuers have to deal with air temperatures around 20 degrees and water temperatures just above freezing, but the river’s current was continuously pushing the aircraftt south toward lower Manhattan. Several were treated for hypothermia, and the most serious injury is believed to have been a flight attendant who suffered a broken leg. The plane is now tied to a pier near Battery Park City and is expected to be lifted onto a barge by Friday morning.

Now moored to a pier near Battery Park City, a wing protrudes into the air. (Photo by John Musolino)

Visit the NYCAviation Forums for discussion, photos and continuing updates on this incident.

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