WASHINGTON — The air traffic controllers became increasingly frantic as they scrambled to find a runway for crippled US Airways Flight 1549 as it descended perilously close to Manhattan. Then came the matter-of-fact reply from the captain: "We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson."
Audio recordings released Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration reveal a tense scramble as controllers tried to arrange an emergency landing before losing touch with the Airbus A320 after captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger ditched it into the Hudson River. In the confusion, controllers mistakenly referred to the aircraft as Flight 1529 at several times; even the pilot or first officer misidentified their flight at one point.
The last words from Flight 1549 as it left New York's LaGuardia Airport at 3:26 p.m. Jan. 15: "Good day." One minute, 48 seconds later, the crew reports: "Hit birds, we lost thrust in both engines, we're turning back to LaGuardia."
A controller at the radar facility in Westbury, N.Y., handling the plane once it left LaGuardia, told the airport tower: "Stop your departures, we got an emergency returning." After identifying the flight, he said, "He lost all engines, he lost the thrust in the engines, he is returning immediately."
The flight had been in the air for 2 minutes, 6 seconds.
Then 17 seconds later, Flight 1549 reported back to the Terminal Radar Approach Control, or TRACON, facility: "We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson."
That led to an unsuccessful scramble to divert the plane to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
"Emergency inbound," one controller said.
"He was a bird strike. Can I get him in for Runway One?" said the TRACON controller, identified by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association as Patrick Harten, a 10-year veteran.
"Runway One, that's good," the Teterboro controller replied, according to the recordings released by the Federal Aviation Administration.
"Cactus 1529 turn right two-eight-zero" for Teterboro, Harten ordered the plane's pilot. Cactus is the call sign used by controllers for US Airways.
"We can't do it," the crew said.
"Okay, which runway would you like at Teterboro?" Harten asked.
"We're going to be in the Hudson," Sullenberger replied.
"I'm sorry, say again Cactus," Harten asked.
There was no response.
At LaGuardia, controllers were talking to a helicopter that kept the plane in sight.
"I got him in sight right next to the USS Intrepid, midriver," the helicopter reported. "It appears they are deploying the rafts right now."
Another LaGuardia controller was talking to airport officials, asking for a rescue effort.
"Okay, listen. We're going to tell you something important — it's Cactus 1549," the controller said urgently. "We see somebody low level in the Hudson River. … You're going to need to alert the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police over there. … He's about a mile and a half north of the Lincoln Tunnel. … We still have a target on him, but he looks like he's low level."