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In seconds, US Airways pilot knew he would land in river

Workers lift the US Airways Airbus 320 from the Hudson River Saturday night in New York City. The plane, headed from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, N.C., crash-landed in the river Thursday. Filled with water, it was estimated to weigh 1-million pounds.

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Workers lift the US Airways Airbus 320 from the Hudson River Saturday night in New York City. The plane, headed from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, N.C., crash-landed in the river Thursday. Filled with water, it was estimated to weigh 1-million pounds.

NEW YORK — The pilot of a crippled US Airways jetliner made a split-second decision to put down in the Hudson River because trying to return to the airport after birds knocked out both engines could have led to a "catastrophic" crash in a populated neighborhood, he told investigators Saturday.

Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger said that in the few minutes he had to decide where to set down the powerless plane Thursday afternoon, he felt it was "too low, too slow" and near too many buildings to go anywhere else, according to the National Transportation Safety Board account of his testimony.

"We can't do it," he told air traffic controllers. "We're gonna be in the Hudson."

The pilot and his first officer provided their first account to NTSB investigators Saturday of what unfolded inside the cockpit of US Airways Flight 1549 after it slammed into a flock of birds and lost both engines.

Co-pilot Jeff Skiles, who was flying the plane at takeoff, saw the birds coming in perfect formation, and made note of it. Sullenberger looked up, and in an instant his windscreen was filled with big, dark brown birds.

Then there was a thump, the smell of burning birds, and silence as both aircraft engines cut out.

After the bird impact, Sullenberger told investigators, he immediately took over flying from his co-poilot. The co-pilot kept trying to restart the engines, while checking off emergency landing procedures on a three-page list that the crew normally begins at 35,000 feet.

Late Saturday, a crane successfully hoisted the submerged jet from the water — inching into view the plane's dirty, dented and scraped tail fin, and the words "US Airways" along the body of the plane.

The metal on the bottom of the craft appeared shredded and torn, and in some places it appeared to be shorn off. With its load of water, the craft was estimated to weigh 1-million pounds.

After the long work to secure the jet, people shook hands and investigators took snapshots.

Before his interview Saturday, Sullenberger was seen entering a conference room of a lower Manhattan hotel, surrounded by federal investigators.

When a reporter approached him for comment, one of the officials responded: "No chance."

NBC said Today show host Matt Lauer would interview Sullenberger on Monday.

His wife, Lorrie Sullenberger, suggested the happy ending was good for the country.

"I think everybody needed some good news, frankly," she said.

In seconds, US Airways pilot knew he would land in river 01/17/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 18, 2009 12:12am]
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