Aviation News

January 18, 2010

One Year After the ‘Miracle on the Hudson,’ an Exclusive Interview with Air Traffic Controller Patrick Harten

Controller Patrick Harten greets US Airways 1549 Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skyles at a hearing with the house Aviaiton Subcommittee.
Controller Patrick Harten greets US Airways 1549 Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skyles at a hearing with the house Aviaiton Subcommittee.
Last week, on the one-year anniversary of the “Miracle in the Hudson” landing of US Airways Flight 1549, I had a privilege of speaking with Patrick Harten, the LaGuardia air traffic controller that we’ve all heard on the recordings of that day. Working New York Departure from New York TRACON, Mr. Harten showed his professionalism and cool as he looked to provide Captain Sullenberger with the options he needed to safely get his Airbus A320 on the ground after suffering a double bird-strike.

NYCAviation: Thank you for taking the time to talk today. When you look back on the year since Cactus 1549′s successful splash landing, what comes to mind…how do you feel?

Patrick Harten: Only recently have I been able to feel really good about the 1549 flight. The trauma of working an airplane that crash-landed is starting to subside and I am grateful to be a part of such a great story.

Controller PAtrick Harten greets US Airways 1549 Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skyles at a hearing with the house Aviaiton Subcommittee.

Controller Patrick Harten greets US Airways 1549 Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles at a hearing with the house Aviaiton Subcommittee.

NYCA: How long after losing radar contact did you learn that everyone had survived?

PH: It was about 30 minutes after I lost radar that I started to hear about survivors. It felt like days, though.

NYCA: From the moment he declared emergency, one can assume you stood up in your chair or snapped to attention, and became “hyper-focused” as you have explained. What were your top resources, in terms of information and equipment, to help you get the aircraft what it needed?

PH: The top resources I had going for me was experience and knowledge. I am the only controller in the LGA area that also worked in the Newark area. The EWR area handles Teterboro also, so when Sully asked about TEB I was very familiar with the airport’s configuration.

The best thing I did that day was not to further stress Sully. Pilots and controllers can feel stress in our voices. We both sounded calm which made it easier to focus on the task at hand. I also didn’t bother him with standard emergency questions such as fuel remaining and persons on board knowing he had enough to deal with already. Another very valuable piece of equipment is our RDVS (Rapid Deployment Voice Switch(ing). By touching a screen next to my Radar I can quickly talk to other controllers around me…in the towers and at the centers.

NYCA: What happened to the mood among your team around you as the emergency was developing? What happens or changes operationally during such emergency situations?

PH: It’s hard for me to remember the mood because I was in shock after it happened. I do remember thinking the room was a lot more quiet than normal.

NYCA: How were the other aircraft in the skies, yours and also fellow controllers’, affected by the presence of such an emergency in local airspace?

PH: A couple of aircraft were pulled off of final for LGA to clear the way for 1549′s possible return to the airport and departures were stopped for a couple of minutes. Everything happened very quickly, so there was minimal delay for the other aircraft.

NYCA: Looking back, is there anything that you wish you had done differently?

PH: There’s not much I would change if I had the chance. I guess if I had to choose one I would have called him 1549 instead of 1529.

US Airways 1549 ATC Recordings and CGI Recreation

NYCA: What, if anything, has the overall experience done for your view of the airline industry and the air traffic control system?

PH: I feel this event was a strong reminder that you need highly skilled professionals in safety related positions.

NYCA: Topic change! Do you have a favorite aircraft type or airline that makes your job easier?

PH: I honestly can’t pick a favorite A/C type or airline. The pilots I deal with every day are great.

NYCA: When you’re not keeping the skies safe, what do you do to relax and de-stress?

PH: I enjoy running to help cope with the stress of my job. Unfortunately I think I have a stress fracture in my foot so I haven’t been able to run in awhile.

NYCA: Thank you so much, Mr. Harten!

This is a clip of Air Traffic Controller Patrick Harten testifying before the House Aviation Subcommittee on February 24, 2009, sharing his version of the events that transpired the day 155 lives were saved.

A big thanks to Patrick Harten and the wonderful job he and his colleagues do to keep our skies safe!