US Airways flight 1549 on 15JAN2009 has crash landed in the icy Hudson River in New York City shortly after take-off from New York La Guardia airport. The Airbus A320 was heading to Charlotte, North Carolina with 155 people on board, including the 2 pilots and 3 flight attendants, of whom ALL escaped successfully after the water landing.
First reports claim, that the plane (registration: N106US, first flight in 1999) took off at 15:26 local time, and soon afterwards passengers heard some sort of an explosion and the plane started shaking. The FAA has disclosed that less than one minute after take-off, the pilot reported “a double bird strike” after colliding with a flock of birds. Soon after the explosion the plane started to turn around and asked for clearance for an emergency landing at La Guardia, just east of Manhattan in Queens which it was granted. Later the pilot chose to try to land at Teterboro which was closer, but couldn’t make it there, either – which resulted in the first controlled emergency landing on water of a US commercial aircraft in more than 50 years at 15:30 local time (less than 6 minutes after takeoff). He informed the passengers ”to get ready for the impact” and landed in the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan, just across New Jersey. Passengers claim it simply felt like a car-accident. Witnesses reported that the plane landed very softly on the river, slowly touching down on the surface at around 48th street, without making a bounce (more about the dangers of such bounces in our earlier article: How to survive an Air Crash?)
Air temperature at the time was -6 Celsius, with the water being +6 C. Television images taken shortly after the accident showed that the aircraft appeared intact and just partially submerged, with local ferry boats quickly rushing to the scene and taking all passengers and crew onboard from the deployed slides/rafts, saving them from being chilled as the aircraft subsequently began to sink. Many were photographed standing on the wings. Passengers have reported that there was indeed some panic onboard after the landing, but the crew was professional in getting them all out of the aircraft through the doors, with women and children first. The 57 year old ex Air Force pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger was the last to leave the plane sweaping the center aisle twice to make sure nobody was left behind! He has been flying with US Airways since 1980 and just one day after the accident it regarded as a Hero (similar to the pilot of British Airways flight 038 last year).
There were widespread but unconfirmed reports of various injuries, including cuts, broken bones and hypothermia, but nothing life threatening. Victims were treated at local hospitals.
“Our preliminary report is that everyone is off the plane and accounted for,” US Airways Chairman and CEO Doug Parker said, adding that it was “premature to speculate about the cause.” Such planes as the Airbus A320 can easily survive the strike of one bird in one of the engines, but hitting 4-5 birds at the same time can cause such an accident as this one.
Landing such an Airbus A320 airliner on water with such precision has never happened before and is claimed as a miracle by many. This type of aircraft typically lands at a speed of around 250 km/hour and hitting the water surface with such speed may make a lot of damage to the fuselage and could practically tear off the engines and the wings or even break the cabin apart – which would result in quick sinking. But luckily this hasn’t happened and the plane landed safely.
This was the second take-off accident in the US within a month that all passengers survived, as on December 20, 2008, a Continental Airlines Boeing slid off the runway in Denver. About a month and a half ago on November 28, 2008, an Airbus A320 crashed in water on a test-flight, killing 7 people onboard.