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US Airways Flight 1549 was a scheduled commercial passenger flight from New York Citymarker to Charlotte, North Carolinamarker, that, on January 15, 2009, was successfully ditched in the Hudson Rivermarker adjacent to Manhattanmarker six minutes after departing from LaGuardia Airportmarker.

While on its initial climb out, the Airbus A320 struck a flock of Canada Geese which resulted in an immediate and nearly complete loss of thrust from both engines. When the aircrew determined that the aircraft would be unable to safely reach any airfield from its location just northeast of the George Washington Bridgemarker, they turned it southbound and glided over the river into which they ditched the airliner near the USS Intrepid Museummarker in midtown Manhattan about three minutes later. All 155 occupants safely evacuated the airliner, which was still virtually intact though partially submerged and slowly sinking. The occupants were quickly rescued by nearby watercraft.

The entire crew of Flight 1549 was later awarded the Master's Medal of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators. The award citation read, "This emergency ditching and evacuation, with the loss of no lives, is a heroic and unique aviation achievement."

Flight designations, route, and crew

LaGuardia Runway 4 Departure
US Airways Flight 1549 (also designated under a Star Alliance codeshare agreement as United Airlines Flight 1919) was a domestic route from New York City's LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Charlotte/Douglas marker, North Carolinamarker, with direct onward service to Seattle-Tacoma marker in Washingtonmarker.

On January 15, 2009, the flight was cleared for takeoff from Runway 4 at LaGuardia at 3:24:56 p.m. EST (20:24:56 UTC). The crew made their first report after becoming airborne at 3:25:51 as being at 700 feet and climbing. There were 150 passengers and five crew members, including the captain, first officer, and three flight attendants, on board.



The captain was Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, 57, a former fighter pilot who had been an airline pilot since leaving the Air Force in 1980. He is also a safety expert and a glider pilot. The first officer was Jeffrey B. Skiles, 49, who was on his first flight in the Airbus A320 since passing the training course to fly the type. The flight attendants were Donna Dent, Doreen Welsh, and Sheila Dail.

As is often the case when a regularly scheduled commercial flight is involved in an accident, use of the flight's number, 1549, was discontinued for subsequent operations of the carrier's afternoon LGA-CLT-SEA service. On January 16, 2009, the route was redesignated US Airways Flight 1543, and on February 12, 2009, the LGA-CLT leg became Flight 1867 when its equipment was changed to an Airbus A321.

Airbus A320-214 and its safety systems

The aircraft was an Airbus A320-214 (Registration: N106US), powered by two GE Aviation/Snecma-designed CFM56-5B4/P engines manufactured in France and the U.S. One of 74 A320s then in service in the US Airways fleet, it was built by Airbus Industrie with final assembly at its facility at Aéroport de Toulouse-Blagnacmarker in France in June, 1999. Delivered to the carrier on August 2, 1999, the airliner was registered to Wells Fargo Bank Northwest, NA, as owner/lessor with AIG listed as the lead insurer.

The aircraft's FAA-required maintenance records, released by US Airways the day after the accident, showed that when N106US was written off, its airframe had logged 16,299 cycles (flights) totaling 25,241.08 flight hours. Total time on the engines was 19,182 hours on the left (#1) and 26,466 hours on the right (#2). The last A Check, a maintenance check performed every 550 flight hours, was passed on December 6, 2008, and the last C Check (annual comprehensive inspection) on April 19, 2008.

The Airbus A320 is a digital fly-by-wire aircraft: the flight control surfaces are moved by electrical and hydraulic actuators controlled by a digital computer. The computer interprets pilot commands via input from a side-stick, making adjustments on its own to keep the plane stable and on course.

The mechanical energy of the two engines is the primary source of routine electrical power and hydraulic pressure for the aircraft flight control systems. The aircraft also has an auxiliary power unit (APU), which can provide backup electrical power for the aircraft, including its electrically powered hydraulic pumps; and a ram air turbine (RAT), a type of wind turbine that can be deployed into the airstream to provide backup hydraulic pressure and electrical power at certain speeds. According to the NTSB, both the APU and the RAT were operating as the plane descended into the Hudson, although it was not clear whether the RAT had been deployed manually or automatically.

The Airbus A320 also has a "ditching" button that closes valves and openings underneath the aircraft, including the outflow valve, the air inlet for the emergency Ram Air Turbine, the avionics inlet, the extract valve, and the flow control valve. It is meant to slow flooding in a water landing. The flight crew did not activate the "ditch switch" during the incident. Sullenberger later noted that it probably would not have been effective anyway, since the force of the water impact tore holes in the plane's fuselage much larger than the openings sealed by the switch.

Flight

Take off and bird strike

Coast Guard video (8:07 long) of the crash and rescue; splashdown is at 3:31:02 pm
First Officer Skiles was at the controls of the flight when it took off to the northeast from Runway 4 at 3:25 p.m., and was the first to notice a formation of birds approaching the aircraft about two minutes later, while passing through an altitude of about on the initial climb out to 15,000 feet. The aircraft collided with the birds at 3:27:01. The windscreen quickly turned dark brown and several loud thuds were heard. Both engines ingested birds and immediately lost almost all thrust. Capt. Sullenberger took the controls, while Skiles began going through the three-page emergency procedures checklist in an attempt to restart the engines.

At 3:27:36, using the call sign "Cactus 1539" , the flight radioed air traffic controllers at New York Terminal Radar Approach Control "Hit birds. We lost thrust in both engines. Returning back towards LaGuardia." Passengers and cabin crew later reported hearing "very loud bangs" in both engines and seeing flaming exhaust, then silence from the engines and smelling the odor of unburned fuel in the cabin. Responding to the captain's report of a bird strike, controller Patrick Harten gave the flight a heading to return to LaGuardia and told him that he could land to the southeast on Runway 13. Sullenberger responded that he was unable.

Flightpath
Sullenberger asked if they could attempt an emergency landing in New Jerseymarker, mentioning Teterboro Airportmarker in Bergen Countymarker as a possibility; air traffic controllers quickly contacted Teterboro and gained permission for a landing on runway 1. However, Sullenberger told controllers that "We can't do it", and that "We're gonna be in the Hudson", making clear his intention to bring the plane down on the Hudson River due to a lack of altitude. Air traffic control at LaGuardia reported seeing the aircraft pass less than above the George Washington Bridgemarker. About 90 seconds before touchdown, the captain announced, "Brace for impact", and the flight attendants instructed the passengers how to do so.

Ditching

The plane ended its six-minute flight at 3:31 pm with an unpowered ditching while heading south at about in the middle of the North Rivermarker section of the Hudson River roughly abeam 50th Street (near the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum) in Manhattanmarker and Port Imperial in Weehawkenmarker, New Jersey. Sullenberger said in an interview on CBS television that his training prompted him to choose a ditching location near operating boats so as to maximize the chance of rescue. The location was near three boat terminals: two used by ferry operator NY Waterway on either side of the Hudson River and a third used by tour boat operator Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises. The ditching location was approximately . After coming to a stop in the river, the plane began drifting southward with the current.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Board Member Kitty Higgins, the principal spokesperson for the on-scene investigation, said at a press conference the day after the accident that it "has to go down [as] the most successful ditching in aviation history." "These people knew what they were supposed to do and they did it and as a result, nobody lost their life."

Evacuation

Immediately after the A320 had been ditched in mid-river, the aircrew began evacuating the 150 passengers, both on to the wings through the four mid-cabin emergency window exits and into an inflated slide deployed from the front right passenger door (the front left slide failed to operate as intended), while the partially submerged and slowly sinking airliner drifted down the river with the current. Two flight attendants were in the front, one in the rear. Each flight attendant in the front opened a door, which was also armed to activate a slide, although the port side slide did not immediately deploy. One rear door was opened by a panicked passenger, causing the aircraft to fill more quickly with water. The flight attendant in the rear who attempted to reseal the rear door was not successful in doing so, she told CBS News. It was later revealed that the impact with the water had ripped open a hole in the underside of the airplane and twisted the fuselage, causing cargo doors to pop open and filling the plane with water from the rear. The flight attendant urged passengers to move forward by climbing over seats to escape the rising water within the cabin. One passenger was in a wheelchair. Having twice walked the length of the cabin to confirm that no one remained inside after the plane had been evacuated, the captain was the last person to leave the aircraft.Evacuees, some wearing life-vests, waited for rescue on the partly submerged slides, knee-deep in icy river water. Others stood on the wings or, fearing an explosion, swam away from the plane. Air temperature at the time was about , and the water was .

Rescue

Video from 20 minutes after ditching, with numerous ferries and rescue boats surrounding the aircraft


Local commercial vessels from the NY Waterway and Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises fleets responded almost immediately to the emergency. NY Waterway ferry Thomas Jefferson, commanded by Captain Vincent Lombardi, was first on the scene arriving at the side of the plane just four minutes after the ditching. NY Waterway ferry Governor Thomas H. Kean, under the command of 20-year-old Captain Brittany Catanzaro, was the second rescue craft to arrive reaching the plane a few minutes later. Catanzaro reported to radio station WNYCmarker that she and her crew used a Jason's cradle to bring people who were wet onto her boat. Aircraft captain Sullenberger stated in CBS News interviews that he advised the ferry crew to rescue passengers on the wing before the passengers in the inflatable slides, as the inflatable slides provided a higher level of safety. Time-stamped video from a United States Coast Guard (USCG) surveillance camera shows that the first of these vessels, a ferry boat, reached the plane at 3:35 pm (four minutes after the ditching) and began rescuing the 155 occupants. By this time many passengers were already standing on the wings or in the inflated slides. The slides eventually detached from the fuselage to form life rafts.At one point, as the plane moved in the strong ebb tide current, passengers on one of the slides, fearing that the stern of the ferry boat would crush them, had to shout to the ferry boat pilot to steer away.

Within minutes, vessels from the New York City Fire and Police Departments (FDNY and NYPD), the USCG, and a privately owned former Coast Guard Buoy Tender were on scene to help with the rescue and recovery effort. All of the passengers and flight crew were rescued safely.

The FDNY sent four marine units and rescue divers. On land, FDNY declared a level III (All Hands) emergency and mobilized their Major Emergency Response, Logistical Support Units and had 35 ambulances ready for patients coming off the flight. About 140 FDNY firefighters responded to docks near the crash. The NYPD sent squad cars, helicopters, vessels, and rescue divers from the Aviation Unit and Harbor Unit.

In addition, about 30 other ambulances were made available by other organizations, including several hospital-based ambulances (St. Vincent, St. Barnabas). Various agencies also provided medical help on the Weehawkenmarker side of the river. Two mutual aid helicopters responded to the West 30th Street Heliportmarker, one from the Nassau County Police and another from the New Jersey State Police. New York Water Taxi sent boats to the scene but did not take part in the rescue.

Injuries

There were five serious injuries, one of which was a deep laceration in flight attendant Doreen Welsh's leg." A Testament to Experienced Airline Flight Personnel Doing Their Jobs", Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute (FAMRI) In total, 78 people were treated, mostly for minor injuries and hypothermia.

Hospitals that treated patients include Saint Vincent's Catholic Medical Centermarker in Greenwich Villagemarker; St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, which admitted ten people; New York Downtown Hospitalmarker, which treated three passengers; and Palisades Medical Centermarker in North Bergen, New Jerseymarker, which treated five patients for hypothermia. In all, 24 passengers and two rescue personnel were treated at hospitals, while others were cared for in triage facilities. According to the airline, no pets were being transported in the cargo hold, with a spokesperson stating, "We don't carry pets in our cargo."

Delayed psychological effects were experienced as a result of the accident and rescue. Symptoms of posttraumatic stress including sleeplessness, flashbacks, and panic attacks were reported by members of the aircrew, passengers, and others directly involved. A number of the survivors received professional counseling, and some began an email support group to help ease the aftereffects of the experience. In addition to those on the plane, FAA Air Traffic Control Specialist Patrick Harten, the New York TRACON controller who worked the flight during the emergency, later stated in testimony before Congress that for him "the hardest, most traumatic part of the entire event was when it was over" during which he was continually "gripped by raw moments of shock and grief."

Aftermath

At 4:55 p.m. fire crews began to stand down. At 5:07 p.m. Doug Parker, CEO of US Airways, issued an official statement during a press conference in Tempemarker, Arizonamarker, in which he confirmed that the flight had been involved in an accident.

The flight crew, particularly Captain Sullenberger, were widely praised for their actions during the incident, notably by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York State Governor David Paterson, who opined, "We had a 'Miracle on 34th Street.' I believe now we have had a 'Miracle on the Hudson'." Outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush said he was "inspired by the skill and heroism of the flight crew", and he also praised the emergency responders and volunteers. Then President-elect Barack Obama said that everyone was proud of Sullenberger's "heroic and graceful job in landing the damaged aircraft", and thanked the A320's crew, whom he invited to attend his inauguration as President in Washington, D.C., five days later. He also invited those who had helped ensure the safety of all 155 people aboard.

Following the rescue, the Airbus A320 remained afloat, though partially submerged, and was quickly moored to a pier near the World Financial Centermarker in Lower Manhattan, roughly downstream from where it had ditched. The left engine had detached from the aircraft during the ditching and was recovered several days later from the river bottom, below the surface. The water was so murky that the right engine was initially thought to have also detached, but it was later found to be still in place on the aircraft (with much of its nacelle missing). On January 17, the aircraft was removed from the Hudson River and placed on a barge. The aircraft was then moved to New Jersey for examination.

The method used to recover the submerged airframe from the water rendered it uneconomical to repair and the airliner was written off. The rear pressure bulkhead was also damaged in the accident, and the salvage contractor, Weeks Marine, cut off the wings and empennage. Another salvage contractor, Source One Airplane Repair, contends that if due care had been taken during the recovery, the aircraft could have been repaired for $20,000,000 (less than a third of the cost of a new aircraft).

The passengers on the aircraft each received a letter of apology, $5,000 in compensation for lost baggage, or $5000 more if passengers can demonstrate more than $5000 in losses, and a refund of the ticket price. Beginning in May, 2009, passengers received their baggage and other belongings. In addition, passengers reported they were offered $10,000 each not to sue US Airways for damages by American International Group (AIG), the airline's insurance carrier, although AIG thus far has not been paying additional claims, even for documented medical claims, citing a lack of negligence and hence no liability according to aviation law.

A similar rescue/recovery effort was launched on the Hudson River just south of the site of the US Airways 1549 ditching a little less than seven months later following the mid-air collisionmarker over the river on August 8, 2009, between a single engine Piper PA-32 climbing out of Teterboro Airportmarker and a Eurocopter AS350 sightseeing helicopter departing from the West 30th Street Heliportmarker. None of the nine passengers and crew onboard those two aircraft survived that accident.

In June and July 2009, workers from the United States Department of Agriculturemarker Wildlife Services and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and Environmental Protection Departments descended on 17 locations across New York capturing and gassing 1,235 Canada Geese. The Agriculture Department undertook another goose control measure by coating 1,739 eggs with corn oil, which prevents goslings from developing by depriving them of air.

Accident investigation

The fuselage being towed to a salvage facility
Shortly after the event, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokeswoman Laura Brown said that the plane may have been hit by birds. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Go Team (typically comprising specialists in fields relating to the incident), led by Senior Air Safety Investigator Robert Benzon, was dispatched to New York. The preliminary report of the incident, published on January 16, states that the aircraft went down following a bird strike.This conclusion, and the simultaneous loss of thrust in both engines, was confirmed by preliminary analysis of the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder, both of which were recovered by the NTSB when the aircraft was lifted out of the river on January 18.

The next day, reports surfaced that the same airplane and same flight had experienced a similar but less severe compressor stall on January 13. During that flight, passengers were told they might have to make an emergency landing. However, the affected engine was restarted and the flight continued to Charlotte. The NTSB later reported that this engine surge had been caused by a faulty temperature sensor, which was replaced, and that the engine was undamaged by the event, which allowed the plane to return to service.

On January 21, the NTSB noted that organic debris, including a single feather, as well as evidence of soft-body damage, was found in the right engine. The left engine was recovered from the river on January 23 and, like the right engine, was missing a large portion of its housing. On initial examination the NTSB reported that while missing obvious organic matter, it too had evidence of soft body impact, and "had dents on both the spinner and inlet lip of the engine cowling. Five booster inlet guide vanes are fractured and eight outlet guide vanes are missing." Both engines were to be sent to the manufacturer's Cincinnati, Ohiomarker facility for teardown and examination. On January 31, the plane was moved to a secure storage facility in Kearny, New Jerseymarker, for the remainder of the investigation. The NTSB confirmed that bird remains had been found in both engines. The bird debris was later identified as Canada Geese through DNA testing. The typical weight of these birds is well above the limits the engines were designed to withstand on impact.

On February 5, the FAA released audio tape recordings and transcripts of its internal and broadcast ATC communications relating to the accident. The entire exchange between Flight 1549 and air traffic control relating to the emergency lasted less than two minutes.

The accident A320 had been assembled by the Airbus Division of the European aerospace consortium EADS, at the Airbus headquarters manufacturing facilities in Toulouse, Francemarker, therefore, under the provisions of ICAOmarker Annex 13, both the European Aviation Safety Agency (the European counterpart of the FAA) and the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (the French counterpart of the NTSB) became active participants in the accident investigation, with technical assistance provided by Airbus Industrie and GE Aviation/Snecma as manufacturers of the airframe and engines respectively.

Flight 1549 is the fifth take-off/departure phase accident at LaGuardia resulting in the write off of an airframe for a commercial air carrier since the field opened in 1939. Of those, it is the third involving the hull loss of a US Airways/USAir plane.

Awards

The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators awarded the entire flight crew of Flight 1549 a Master's Medal on January 22, 2009. The medal is awarded only rarely, for outstanding aviation achievements at the discretion of the Master of the Guild. The citation for the award is:

The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, presented the Keys to the City to the crew of Flight 1549. He also gave the pilot a replacement copy of a library book lost on the flight, Just Culture: Balancing Safety and Accountability, by Sidney Dekker. The civilian and uniformed rescuers received Certificates of Honor. In addition, the crew of Flight 1549 were given a standing ovation prior to the start of Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009.

On July 28 passengers Dave Sanderson and Barry Leonard organized a thank you luncheon for emergency responders from Hudson County, New Jerseymarker on the shores of Palisades Medical Centermarker in North Bergen, New Jerseymarker, less than a mile north of where the plane made its landing, and where 57 of the victims had been brought following their rescue. Present at the luncheon were members from the U.S. Coast Guard, North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, NY Waterway Ferries, the American Red Cross, Weehawkenmarker Volunteer First Aid, the Weehawken Police Department, West New Yorkmarker E.M.S., North Bergen E.M.S., the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management, the New Jersey E.M.S. Task Force, the Guttenbergmarker Police Department, McCabe Ambulance, the Harrisonmarker Police Department, and doctors and nurses who treated survivors for hypothermia and other injuries following the incident.

Real time video and first person accounts

Unless they happen at a major airport, most commercial airline accidents generally occur without any "real time" video and/or photographic record of the event. However, the circumstance of Flight 1549's river ditching in a heavily populated metropolitan area during daylight hours was an exception, with video of the accident captured and recorded by multiple nearby closed circuit television surveillance camera systems as the accident occurred. That, along with the survival of all 155 passengers and crew, virtually uninjured made possible the relatively rapid production and broadcast of multiple television reports and documentaries containing both extensive real time video of the actual ditching and rescue, and extensive recorded first person accounts by the aircrew, passengers, rescuers, and other key participants. Included among those broadcast accounts were:
  • On February 8, 2009, the CBS program 60 Minutes broadcast three segments that included interviews with the aircrew as well as their reunion with the flight's passengers. The program aired again on July 5, 2009.
* Flight 1549: A Routine Takeoff Turns Ugly
* Flight 1549: Saving 155 Souls In Minutes
* Flight 1549: An Emotional Reunion
* Face to Face: Dan Ashley and the Sullenbergers
  • On March 4, 2009, the Discovery Channel broadcast a film entitled Hudson Plane Crash - What Really Happened, a one-hour documentary examining the circumstances surrounding the accident and rescue with computer-generated imagery animations of the flight, and interviews with passengers, crew, witnesses, rescuers, and experts in the field of aviation safety.


See also



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