WASHINGTON — On takeoff, the pilot of Flight 1549 remarked on two things almost immediately: a breathtaking view of the Hudson River and the sickening thump of birds hitting his engines. Warnings about the birds probably would not have helped, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger told federal safety officials Tuesday as they looked for ways to prevent a recurrence that could prove deadly.
"In my experience, the warnings we get are general in nature and not specific and therefore have limited usefulness," Sullenberger said during a hearing by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The board began three days of hearings into safety issues arising from the Jan. 15 accident, including efforts to prevent bird strikes and the ability of aircraft engines to withstand collisions with large birds. Other issues include whether the Federal Aviation Administration's aircraft certification standards are adequate to protect passengers in the event of a forced water landing.
In the case of US Airways Flight 1549, the Airbus A320 suffered a rupture near the tailcone that sent water gushing into the cabin after its forced landing on the Hudson River. All 155 aboard managed to escape the sinking craft.
A cockpit voice recorder transcript released by the board showed Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles were admiring their surroundings less than a minute before their plane struck a flock of Canada geese and lost thrust in both engines.
Sullenberger told the board that he didn't attempt to return to New York's LaGuardia Airport because he thought, "I cannot afford to be wrong."
"I had to make sure I could make it before I chose that option," he said. Instead of risking a crash in a densely populated area, he glided the plane into the river.