New York: A US Airways jet with 155 people on board ditched in the frigid Hudson River off Manhattan after apparently hitting a flock of geese on Thursday and officials said everyone was rescued.
“We’ve had a miracle on the Hudson,” New York Gov. David Paterson told a news conference, calling the pilot a hero for landing the Airbus A320 plane in the fast-moving river.
“The pilot somehow, without any engines, was able to land this plane ... without any serious injuries,” Paterson said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lauded the pilot for ensuring all those on board, including a baby, were safe.
“The pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure that everybody got out,” Bloomberg said, noting that the pilot was calm enough to walk through the plane twice after landing to ensure everyone was out.
The pilot of Flight 1549 was Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger of Danville, California, according to his wife who was reached by telephone by Reuters. Sullenberger is a former Air Force fighter pilot with 40 years flying experience, according to the website of a safety company he founded.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it was investigating reports the plane hit a flock of birds after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia airport.
Witnesses saw the plane glide in low for an emergency landing, kicking up a cloud of spray in the river, which runs to the west of Manhattan island.
US Airways said 150 passengers and five crew were aboard the Airbus A320, headed for Charlotte, North Carolina.
Shortly after takeoff, the pilot radioed flight controllers that he had hit birds, law enforcement sources said.
Mark Wilkinson, a commercial pilot waiting for takeoff at LaGuardia shortly after the crash, said the ground controller told him the plane had sucked a bird into an engine after takeoff. He told Reuters in an e-mail that there were many geese near the runways.
A passenger told Reuters that a few minutes after takeoff he heard what sounded like an explosion. “The engine blew. There was fire everywhere and it smelled like gas,” said Jeff Kolodjay, from Norwalk, Connecticut.
He said the pilot told passengers to brace for impact. After the aircraft ditched, he said, “People were bleeding all over. We hit the water pretty hard. It was scary.”
“You gotta give it to the pilot, he made a hell of a landing,” said a visibly shaken Kolodjay, who climbed onto a life raft with other passengers and was rescued from there.
As many as eight ferries and water taxis rushed to rescue passengers, some of whom lined up on the half-submerged plane’s wings wearing yellow life vests, before police boats arrived.
Bloomberg said most passengers were plucked directly from the plane and very few were completed soaked. Police divers pulled people out of the water and searched the plane, which remained afloat and was eventually towed to shore.
“We saw the plane halfway submerged,” said Detective Michael Delaney. “One woman was just holding onto the side of a ferry boat, trying to get onto the ferry, but was unable to make it. We pulled the woman up on the boat.”
Aviation experts said that landing a commercial jet on water without the plane breaking apart was extraordinary.
“A water landing is typically even more destructive than a ground landing. It is amazing an Airbus jet was able to land in the river without breaking up,” said Max Vermij, an air accident investigator with Accident Cause Analysis of Ottawa, Canada.
He speculated that the plane would have hit the water at a speed of about 140 knots. “Typically the wings and engines would break off on impact, water would plow into the jet and tear apart the fuselage.”
At St. Luke’s Roosevelt hospital in Manhattan, some passengers arrived with one elderly couple still wearing their life preservers.
Bank of America Corp said 23 of its staff were on the plane and all were safe and accounted for.
Thomson Reuters employee Alex Whittaker, who was on the 22nd floor of the company’s Times Square building, said “I saw the plane coming in very low but under control, it splashed down in the water. Once it cleared it was still floating on its belly.
“The doors opened and we could see life rafts and we could just about see a few people climbing out onto the water.”
Nick Prisco was driving on the highway by the river when he saw the incident. Having lived through the 11 September attacks, the sight of a plane flying so low revived memories of the 2001 assault on the World Trade Center by hijacked airliners.
“It was bizarre, it was surreal. I thought it was a terrorist attack,” he told Reuters.
A Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman said there was no indication this incident was linked to terrorism.
The FAA says bird and other wildlife strikes to aircraft annually cause well over $600 million in damage to US civil and military aviation and over 219 people have been killed worldwide as a result of wildlife strikes since 1988.
The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash and should be able to determine the cause, through inspection of the jet’s engines and analysis of cockpit voice and data recorder information.