Hudson Splashdown Audio Released

The Federal Aviation Administration has released audio of conversation between pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and air-traffic controllers moments before US Airways flight 1549 splashed down into the Hudson River. All 155 people onboard survived in last month's splashdown.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Three minutes - that's about how long Captain Chesley Sullenberger had to land his plane in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of birds above New York City. Today, for the first time we hear the conversation between the pilot and air traffic controllers as they tried to save the flight.

NPR's Robert Smith reports.

ROBERT SMITH: It was 3:27 in the afternoon - an air traffic controller sitting in a room 20 miles from LaGuardia Airport is guiding at least three planes out of New York's airspace including…

Captain CHESLEY SULLENBERGER (Pilot): Cactus 1549-700, climbing 5,000.

SMITH: That's Captain Chesley Sullenberger taking his plane up to 5,000 feet. Throughout the recording, the flight is referred to as Cactus 1549. Cactus is the call sign for U.S. Airways because it's based in Arizona. The controller wants the plane to head west, sending it off to the final destination of Charlotte, when we hear about the birds.

Unidentified Man #1 (Air Traffic Controller): Cactus 1549, turn left heading two, seven, zero.

Capt. SULLENBERGER: This is Cactus 1539, hit birds. We lost thrust in both engines. We're turning back towards LaGuardia.

Unidentified Man #1: Okay, yeah, you need to return to LaGuardia. Turn left heading up two, two, zero.

Capt. SULLENBERGER: Two, two, zero.

SMITH: The only sign that perhaps Captain Sullenberger isn't as calm as he sounds is that he gave the wrong number for his flight, calling it 39 instead of 49. As the tension mounts, they'll make this mistake more often. The departure controller calls the tower at LaGuardia to warn them.

Unidentified Man #1: Tower, stop your departures. We got emergency returning.

Unidentified Man #2 (Air Traffic Controller): Who is this?

Unidentified Man #1: 1529 - he - bird strike, he lost all engine - he lost the thrust in the engines, he's returning immediately.

Unidentified Man #2: Cactus 1529, which engines?

Unidentified Man #1: He lost thrust in both engines, he said.

Unidentified Man #2: Got it.

SMITH: But after only a minute, it's already too late to turn back to LaGuardia. When offered a runway, Captain Sullenberger says just one word.

Capt. SULLENBERGER: Unable.

Unidentified Man #2: Okay, what do you need to land?

SMITH: The plane is now over the Hudson River approaching the George Washington Bridge.

Capt. SULLENBERGER: What's over to our right, anything in New Jersey, maybe Teterboro?

Unidentified Man #2: Okay, yeah, off to your right side is Teterboro Airport.

SMITH: Teterboro is a small airport in New Jersey. In that control tower, there's a question about whether they can handle a plane this heavy.

Unidentified Man #3 (Air Traffic Controller): Yeah, well, he's, he's, he's going to land here because he's, he's, he's falling down right now. He's coming in, he's gonna land.

Unidentified Woman #1: All right, have you rolled the truck?

Unidentified Man #3: I'm calling in all the trucks now.

SMITH: Those are the emergency trucks. But now the plane is too low to make it to New Jersey.

Unidentified Man #2: Cactus 1529, turn right two-eight-zero, you can land runway one at Teterboro.

Capt. SULLENBERGER: We can't do it.

Unidentified Man #2: Okay, which runway would you like at Teterboro?

Capt. SULLENBERGER: We're going to be in the Hudson.

Unidentified Man #2: I'm sorry, say again, Cactus.

SMITH: There was no answer from flight 1549. The plane is off the radar. The regional air traffic controller finally shows a bit of emotion as he gets back to helping the other plane.

Unidentified Man #2: All right, departure, we're stopped on departure, runway four.

SMITH: Back in the tower at LaGuardia, the search for the aircraft has begun.

Unidentified Man #4: Give me the police department and helicopter if you got one on your frequency.

Unidentified Man #5: Say again.

Unidentified Man #4: Give me the police department and helicopter if you got one on your frequency right now.

Unidentified Man #5: We don't have one now, but I will make the call.

Unidentified Man #4: You get anybody. You send them right up to (unintelligible) tower. We had a Cactus airbus go down in the water.

Unidentified Man #5: I got it. Okay.

Unidentified Man #4: Okay.

SMITH: What they don't know is that helicopters along the west side of Manhattan have been watching the whole landing and narrating it on another frequency.

Unidentified Woman #2: Going down in the water.

Unidentified Man #6: It appears that they are - the point they're at right now.

SMITH: If there was any amazement at the landing or the fact that everyone survived, you don't hear it on the recordings. There are other planes to land and the controllers calmly go back to business.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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Pilot: 'We're Going To Be In The Hudson'


Nelson Hsu, Lindsay Mangum, Alyson Hurt and Andrew Prince/NPR

Audio From The FAA

The Federal Aviation Administration released audio of the air traffic communications and transcripts between controllers and pilots when US Airways Flight 1549 crash-landed into the Hudson River on Jan. 15.

Landing In The Hudson

The pilot of a US Airways passenger plane tried to direct his crippled jet to two airports Jan. 15 before realizing he would have to ditch the craft in the Hudson River, according to transcripts and audio excerpts of air traffic communications released Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We lost thrust in both engines. We're turning back towards LaGuardia," pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger told air traffic controllers shortly before ditching his jet. Investigators believe the jet struck a flock of birds, damaging the engines.

The transcripts indicate Sullenberger first was aware his jet had lost power at 3:27 p.m. ET. "We may end up in the Hudson," Sullenberger radioed less than a minute later.

"OK, what do you need to land?" a controller asked a few moments later.

"I am not sure if we can make any runway. Oh, what's over to our right? Anything in New Jersey? Maybe Teterboro?" Sullenberger responded.

Air traffic controllers worked to clear an emergency landing at the airport in nearby Teterboro, N.J., but less than a minute later, Sullenberger radioed with his assement: "We can't do it."

"OK, which runway would you like at Teterboro?" came the response.

"We're going to be in the Hudson," Sullenberger radioed back. It was the last communication from the pilot.

The plane, with 150 passengers and five crew members aboard, ditched in the Hudson shortly afterward. All 155 were rescued as the plane drifted down the river toward the south edge of Manhattan. Sullenberger, 57, an Air Force veteran with more than 40 years of flying experience, told FAA investigators he glided the plane into the river rather than risk crashing into a densely populated area.

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