Searching the HUDSON RIVER for the recovery of engines vital in determining whether or not BIRDS caused the emergency landing of Flight 1549.
US Airways Plane’s Engines Are Focus of Crash Search (Update1)
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By John Hughes
Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- New York’s Hudson River is being searched by U.S. authorities for two missing engines central to determining whether bird strikes forced the emergency landing of a US Airways Group Inc. jet.
Sonar is being used to search downriver from where the plane crashed into the water yesterday, said Kitty Higgins, a National Transportation Safety Board member, at a New York press conference today. It is too early to decide whether birds caused the crash, she said.
All 155 people aboard US Airways Flight 1549 survived after the pilot reported birds striking the engines following takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. New York Governor David Paterson called it a “miracle on the Hudson.”
“Having a successful ditching of an airplane is a very rare event,” Higgins said of the landing. The plane stayed afloat long enough for the passengers and crew to evacuate and be rescued by ferries and fire boats.
The plane, an Airbus SAS A320, will be lifted out of the river onto a barge tomorrow for further inspection, Higgins said. Authorities will also retrieve the “black boxes,” a flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder in the tail of the plane.
The recorders will be shipped to Washington for analysis, Higgins said, giving investigators information about what the pilots said in the cockpit and the manipulation of flight controls during the event.
The pilot, identified as Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, set down the A320 gently enough to keep it afloat, and the “sheer luck” of having ferries nearby hastened the recovery of passengers in freezing weather, aviation consultant Robert W. Mann said.
Sullenberger “is the reason my 2 1/2-year-old daughter has a dad,” passenger Brad Wentzell said in an interview shown on CNN. At a press conference today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would present the crew with a key to the city for their “inspiring” work in bringing down the plane without serious injury to anyone.
One of the flight attendants suffered a broken leg, Bloomberg said.
The icy conditions of the recovery effort “make it even more remarkable,” said Peter Goelz, former managing director of the NTSB, which sent investigators to New York.
Temperatures were about 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) at the time. John Perugia, chief of Emergency Medical Services for the Fire Department, said the survivors could have lived for no more than four minutes in water that Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said was between 36 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
The accident occurred after the A320 left LaGuardia at about 3 p.m. for Charlotte, North Carolina, carrying 150 passengers and 5 crew members.
As the plane climbed, the pilot radioed controllers that bird strikes had robbed the engines of power, said Doug Church, a spokesman for the Air Traffic Controllers Association. The pilot reported that he couldn’t return to LaGuardia or reach New Jersey’s Teterboro airport, and brought the jet down in the river, Church said.
“You can handle hitting maybe one bird, but not three or four,” Goelz said. The Federal Aviation Administration said there were reports of a large flock in the area, while saying it wasn’t sure whether the birds caused the accident.
Bloomberg told reporters that the pilot did a “masterful job” in pulling off the river landing and then walked through the partially submerged jet twice to ensure that it had been cleared of people. The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.
Sullenberger has worked at Tempe, Arizona-based US Airways since 1980, flying Airbus A319, A320 and A321 jets, according to the Web site of Safety Reliability Methods Inc., a consulting firm he founded in San Francisco.
‘Proud of Dad’
“Obviously, we’re very proud of Dad,” his wife, Lorrie Sullenberger, told reporters outside their home in Danville, California. President George W. Bush spoke to the pilot, said his spokeswoman, Dana Perino. Bush also released a statement praising Sullenberger’s skill and bravery.
Sullenberger, 58, has a total of 19,663 flight hours, US Airways said in a statement today. The copilot was identified as Jeffrey Skiles, 49, who has 15,643 hours.
Higgins of the NTSB said it hasn’t been confirmed which pilot was at the controls during the accident.
Touching down on the water means going without the landing gear that take the pounding of transitioning from flight to rolling down a runway. Instead, the fuselage absorbs the force of striking an ocean or river while traveling at 150 mph (241 kilometers) or more.
Passenger Bill Zuhoski, 23, who was seated in the back of Flight 1549, said he felt a jerk, saw flight attendants appear nervous and then heard the pilot order everyone to prepare for a crash.
“How do you brace yourself for impact when you know your plane’s going to crash?” Zuhoski, 23, of Long Island, New York, told reporters at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. “The impact was the most tremendous impact you can imagine. My head slammed and I lost my glasses and the water immediately began rushing in.”
In 1968, all 107 people aboard a Japan Airlines Corp. DC-8 were evacuated after the plane landed in San Francisco Bay, 2 1/2 miles short of the San Francisco airport, according to safety Web site planecrashinfo.com.
More commonly, water crashes are like the March 1992 accident at LaGuardia when an ice-laden US Airways Fokker F-28 stalled on takeoff and plunged into Flushing Bay, killing 27 passengers and crew, according to the NTSB.
In January 1982, an Air Florida Inc. Boeing Co. 737 struggled for altitude after taking off with ice in the engines and on the wings, striking a bridge and then slamming into the frozen Potomac River, the NTSB found. The death toll was 78, including 4 fatalities on the ground.
Losing power on takeoff and landing is perilous for pilots because they’re close to the ground and moving relatively slowly, giving them scant time to restart their engines or steer to safety.
To contact the reporters on this story: John Hughes in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: January 16, 2009 20:05 EST