- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 17, 2009

Officials investigating Thursday’s crash of a US Airways jet into the Hudson River want to know more than what went wrong — they want to know what went right in the successful landing, which all 155 people on board survived.

“We want to look at what made it so survivable,” said Kitty Higgins, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Their curiosity includes how Air Force-trained pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger landed the Airbus A320 and how it managed to stay afloat long after commercial and rescue ships had plucked the passengers and crew from a wing and the icy waters.

“The good-news story is how survivable this accident was,” Ms. Higgins said during a press conference Friday. She later added that both the pilot and co-pilot of Flight 1549 have been subjected to and passed drug tests.

Mr. Sullenberger has yet to speak publicly about the incident and cannot until he is debriefed by NTSB investigators, possibly as early as Saturday.

However, President Bush spoke to Mr. Sullenberger by phone and praised the former fighter pilot for his amazing skill in bringing his plane down safely, for his bravery, and for his heroic efforts to ensure the safety of his passengers.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to present the pilot with a key to the city and told reporters that his heroic actions “inspired people around the city and millions more around the world.” The U.S. Senate also passed a resolution praising Mr. Sullenberger, along with other crew members and first responders, on Friday.

The investigation into what caused both engines to fail was hampered Friday by cold weather and a swift current, which meant divers had little time for efforts to retrieve the two recorders still intact inside the plane. The flight data recorder is located in the tail of the plane and contains data on the engines, electronics and mechanical systems. The voice recorder, or black box, is in the cockpit, and will reveal all conversations between the pilots and crew as well as with air traffic control.

“We know where they are; in this case we just can’t get to them because of the problems with the water, current and temperatures,” Ms. Higgins said. “That’s why we have to get the plane out of the water, to remove the recorders.”

Crews spent Friday rigging the plane to a crane to hoist it onto a barge. Once the wreckage is secured, the recording boxes will be removed.

Ms. Higgins also revealed that both engines are no longer attached to the plane, although photos before the emergency water landing suggest that both were attached before the crash.

The Army Corps of Engineers and New York Police Department are using sonar to locate the engines, beginning in the area where the plane first landed and heading down to where it was later towed.

Mr. Sullenberger initially reported that a flock of birds blew out both engines shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport for a flight to Charlotte, N.C.

Investigators refused to speculate on the actual cause until the engines can be recovered and inspected, but they concede that birds are a possible culprit.

“This is the first accident we’ve investigated in a very long time where this has been a factor,” Ms. Higgins said. “We know this is a problem. That’s why the Department of Agriculture is involved; they have the expertise in this area. It’s not something you see with any frequency.”

Investigators hope to interview the pilots and crew members Saturday, and plan to lift the wreckage out of the water beginning at 10 a.m. After damage to the structure has been documented, it will be moved to a “secure location for further investigation,” Ms. Higgins said.

• Jon Ward contributed to this report.


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