- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

NEW YORK | A jetliner that crash landed in the Hudson River lost power simultaneously in both engines after reaching an altitude of only 3,200 feet, the plane’s black box recorders revealed Sunday.

The details that emerged confirmed the harrowing circumstances under which the pilot of the US Airways flight carrying 155 people maneuvered the plane over New York City and safely into the water after striking a flock of birds Thursday.

“The captain makes radio call to ATC [air traffic control] calling mayday and reports that they hit birds, lost both engines and were returning to LaGuardia” airport, said Kitty Higgins, National Transportation Safety Board member, releasing cockpit transmissions captured on flight data and voice recorders.

Meanwhile, the search for the plane’s missing left engine was suspended until Tuesday because ice floes in the river made it too dangerous to put divers or special sonar equipment in the water, Miss Higgins said.

Further downriver, the hulking wreckage of the plane rested on a barge moored to a seawall in lower Manhattan a few blocks from the World Trade Center site, where crews were removing its fuel. The Airbus A320 took off with 21,791 pounds of fuel en route to Charlotte, N.C.

Officials hoped to finish defueling and move the plane to a New Jersey marina sometime by early Monday.

Investigators already have seen significant damage to the tail and to compartments at the bottom of the plane that opened upon impact, Miss Higgins said.

She heaped praised the flight crew, led by US Airways Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, who spoke to NTSB investigators Saturday.

“Miracles happen because a lot of everyday things happen for years and years and years,” Miss Higgins said. “These people knew what they were supposed to do and they did it and as a result, nobody lost their life.”

Capt. Sullenberger had been scheduled to give his first public interview Monday morning to NBC “Today” show host Matt Lauer, but the appearance was canceled Sunday at the request of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association.

Stephen Bradford, president of the association, said he asked Capt. Sullenberger not to engage in any media activities because the pilots association has “interested party” status with the NTSB which allows it to participate in the investigation.

Capt. Sullenberger released a statement saying it was deferring to the advice of the pilots association. “The Sullenbergers continue to thank their many well-wishers for the incredible outpouring of support,” the statement said.

Although the area where the barge was moored was closed to the public, it attracted hundreds of residents and tourists who snapped pictures of the wreckage.

Kelsey Higginbotham, a 20-year-old student at East Tennessee State University, peered at the crippled aircraft Sunday from behind police barricades.

She and a friend had been to Times Square, Central Park and ground zero, where nearly 3,000 people were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. She said she was struck by the contrast between one disaster where so many people died and another where everyone survived.

“It’s a miracle,” she said. “I guess New Yorkers can’t take any more tragedy.”

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