- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

NEW YORK | Passengers and crew on US Airways flight 1549 may be the luckiest people alive.

Rescuers plucked all 155 people - 150 passengers and five crew members - from the Airbus jet’s wings and the icy water of the Hudson River after Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III glided his plane onto the river surface. The aircraft had lost all engine power minutes after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

A Homeland Security Department official told The Washington Times that the pilot said bird strikes blew out the engines of the Airbus A320, causing it to lose power. Having birds fly into the engine “would not be that unusual.”

“Both [New York] airports are notorious for having bird problems,” the official said. “They have expensive, ongoing bird mitigation programs, from firing cannons to other things to disrupt the bird flocks and keep them away from the airport. A goose or a seagull can be catastrophic.”

Passenger Joe Hart showered reporters with praise for Mr. Sullenberger, a former Air Force fighter pilot, for floating the plane down to a landing that “wasn’t a whole lot more than a rear-end [collision]. It threw you into the seat ahead of you.”

Doug Parker, chairman and CEO of U.S. Airways, said in a press conference that “everyone is off the plane and accounted for.”

Paramedic Helen Rodriguez told the Associated Press that she saw a passenger with two broken legs. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that while many passengers were taken to hospitals to be treated for hypothermia and minor injuries, preliminary reports showed all were in stable condition.

Many were able to spend the night in their homes or in hotel rooms, presumably with the heat turned up. Air temperatures were in the 20s with winds reported at 15 mph and water temperatures of 36 degrees when the Charlotte-bound flight went down almost immediately after taking off at 3:26 p.m.

“I remember a loud boom and we dropped about 100 feet,” one survivor said on television. “It was really scary and I’m really thankful that the vast majority of people are all right. It’s pretty amazing.”

Swift currents carried the Airbus nearly two miles downriver from the crash site in Midtown Manhattan, around 48th Street.

Incredulous witnesses described a smooth, controlled water landing that left the plane floating and intact in the gray Hudson. The rafts automatically deployed when the doors were opened. One of the survivors told MSNBC the evacuation was orderly, but that within minutes water began to fill the downed plane.

Some passengers climbed out on the plane’s wings, while others clung to the emergency slides while rescue ferries, water taxis and other boats from the Coast Guard, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, and private parties in the area quickly rushed to the scene.

Vincent Lombardi, captain of a private NY Waterway commuter ferry, said his ship was at the scene within minutes and some of its passengers tossed life jackets and ropes to plane passengers in the river.

“They were cheering when we pulled up,” Mr. Lombardi said. “We had to pull an elderly woman out of a raft in a sling. She was crying. … People were panicking. They said, ‘hurry up, hurry up.’”

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate the crash and the airplane, which was towed from the river.

“It would be premature to speculate about the cause of the accident,” Mr. Parker said. “The NTSB will conduct a thorough investigation to determine the probable cause and they have our complete support.”

“Right now we don’t have any indication this was anything other than an accident,” Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

Passenger Alberto Panero told CNN he heard a loud bang just after takeoff. “Boats managed to get right up to the door and you could just literally, in effect, jump off into a boat, never had to go into the water,” Mr. Panero said by telephone.

Mr. Sullenberger managed to land without breaking open the fuselage, keeping out the near-freezing water, which could have been deadly within a few minutes had it suddenly filled a broken-up plane. Mr. Sullenberger quickly became a national hero.

“A masterful job of landing,” said Mr. Bloomberg, himself an experienced pilot.

“A miracle on the Hudson,” said New York Gov. David Paterson.

President Bush said he was “inspired by the skill and heroism of the flight crew, as well as the dedication and selflessness of the emergency responders.”

Passenger Jeff Kolodjay, from Norwalk, Conn., told reporters he heard an explosion and began smelling fuel just before the crash.

“The captain said, ‘Brace for impact because we’re going down,’” a visibly shaken Mr. Kolodjay said. “You gotta give it to the pilot, he made a hell of a landing.”

Mr. Kolodjay said he was rescued from a life raft. Others walked out on wings. The Coast Guard said it pulled 78 people out of the water, most of whom were sent to hospitals.

Mr. Sullenberger, who has flown with US Airways since 1980, saw a runway, identified by an air traffic controller as Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, and attempted to land there just before dropping into the river, said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Union.

Mr. Sullenberger also participated in a board that probed aircraft accidents and several NTSB investigations.

The crash came 27 years after an Air Florida Boeing 737 plunged into the Potomac River after hitting the 14th Street Bridge in Washington. That accident killed 78 people, including four motorists on the bridge. Five people on the plane survived.

• Audrey Hudson reported from Washington.

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