NEW YORK — Although the "Miracle on the Hudson" had a happy ending, there are still plenty of lessons to be learned from the January 2009 emergency landing, federal officials said as they concluded their 15-month investigation of the incident Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board met to formally determine what caused US Airways Flight 1549 to lose power and to issue 35 formal safety recommendations stemming from the close call.
Not surprisingly, the board found that the cause of the incident was the "ingestion of large birds into each engine" of the Airbus 320. With little time to react, flight captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger chose to bring the plane down from 3,000 feet into the Hudson River.
A report issued Monday by Airbus said it was "technically feasible" Sullenberger could have safely returned and landed at New York's LaGuardia Airport, from where he took off. However, the NTSB confirmed that the decision to "ditch" the plane into the river "provided the highest probability that the accident would be survivable."
The panel added that, even after the plane had landed safely, its passengers still faced the danger of "cold shock" from the freezing Hudson waters, and as a result, they could have drowned "in as little as five minutes." Special safety equipment on the plane may have saved several passengers' lives, the NTSB said.
"Once the birds and the airplane collided and the accident became inevitable, so many things went right," said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman.
The 35 recommendations adopted by the panel included equipping all passenger-carrying planes with life vests and rafts, more thorough testing of engines' ability to withstand bird strikes, airport wildlife mitigation and better preflight passenger briefings.