Passengers Treated For Hypothermia

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Rescued passengers from US Airways Flight 1549, which crashed in the Hudson River, are being treated for hypothermia. A survivor said they had just taken off when he felt a thud, and the plane dropped down. There wasn't much time before an emergency landing, he said.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We've been reporting this afternoon on the emergency landing of a US Airways passenger jet in the Hudson River. Flight 1549 had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport and was supposed to be heading to Charlotte, North Carolina, when it landed in the river. More than 150 people were onboard and all are now reported safe. The pilot reported he had experienced a double bird strike soon after takeoff. The plane floated in the river as police boats rushed to the rescue.

NPR's Robert Smith is on 40th Street by the Hudson River in Midtown Manhattan, and he joins us now. And Robert, you've been there as some of the survivors have been coming in off the water. Can you tell us what sorts of injuries they seem to have sustained?

ROBERT SMITH: Well, so far, some people have been treated for hypothermia. The water, as you can imagine, was extremely cold. It's one of the coldest days of the winter here in New York City. There was one woman whose leg was injured. Another man I saw come out on a stretcher. We don't know what his injuries were, but he was moving around. We heard from one of the people who actually walked off...

(Soundbite of policewoman giving instructions to crowd)

SMITH: You got it. Police officers moving me now, gives you the sense that they're still trying to herd reporters around and they're still trying to keep us away from the ambulances that are coming out. But as we heard from one survivor who came off of it, he saw people who were covered in blood who had hit their heads, but that everyone had gotten off the plane, as you said.

BLOCK: You spoke with one of the passengers on this US Airways plane. What did he say about what led up to this crash, what he felt and what he saw?

SMITH: Well, he said, you know, they had just taken off. They hadn't been in the air very long when he felt sort of a sudden thud and explosion. He said that you could see some fire coming out of the engine on one side, and at this point the plane sort of dropped down. He could feel the drop and there wasn't much time before the pilot said they were going to go in for an emergency landing. And this passenger described the landing that was pretty rough as you can imagine, hitting the water.

But still, he said the pilots were absolute heroes to take it on as they did. And you have to realize they - how fortuitous they were to land where they did in the Hudson River. They were right next to the ferry boat terminal here at 40th Street, and almost immediately ferry boats were able to surround this plane and help get people off the plane and keep the plane from drifting downriver into the main channel.

BLOCK: What did this passenger say about the procedure for getting off this plane? There were these images - TV images - of passengers standing on the wings of this aircraft as it floated in the river.

SMITH: He said people were fairly calm. He saw one woman who was with a baby, he said, was trying to climb over (unintelligible) and people just started to shout, women and children first. And they got them off to life rafts. At one point, he said that the life rafts had been tied to the plane and the plane was starting to move and go down a little bit and one of the ferry boat captains gave him a knife to cut the raft away from the plane. But he said it was fairly orderly and people were pretty respectful considering the circumstances.

BLOCK: And as we said, everyone is now off that plane.

SMITH: Everyone is off that plane and the plane continues to float down the river. From what we hear, it's sort of approaching Battery Park City, so it's gone, you know, a good 40, 50 blocks downriver. No word yet. We're just awaiting the mayor about to give a briefing and the governors here. They're going to give a briefing on what's going to happen to the plane, the details of the rescue, how many fire trucks and such were here for the rescue, and we're going to hear that in a few minutes.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Robert Smith by the Hudson River in Midtown Manhattan. Robert, thanks so much. We've been talking about the emergency landing of a US Airways passenger jet this afternoon in the Hudson River. More than 150 people onboard that plane and all are reported to be safe.

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Minimizing Hypothermia Risk After Exposure

People who are exposed to very cold environments, whether air or water, can develop hypothermia after a relatively short time.

When your body temperature starts to dip below the normal 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, you may be unable to think clearly or move normally. Because your thinking is clouded, you may not realize you have hypothermia.

When the body's temperature drops below 95 degrees, the situation is critical, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You should seek medical attention immediately.

In responding to the water landing Thursday of US Airways Flight 1549 in New York, the main goal of rescuers and medical personnel was to prevent hypothermia. When the plane hit the water, the water temperature was 41 degrees at a buoy five miles south and the air temperature was 20.

Since most people were rescued in a relatively short time, the risk of developing serious hypothermia is low.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people can survive one to three hours in water that is 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. But they might lose consciousness in 30 to 60 minutes in water that cold.

In extreme cases, people can get frostbite, lose fingers, toes or limbs, or even die.

To treat hypothermia, the first thing to do is remove wet clothing and replace it with something dry. In addition to wrapping people in blankets or other coverings, emergency personnel would monitor breathing and start resuscitation if necessary.

At the hospital, medical personnel might give survivors warm fluids intravenously. If the hypothermia is severe, dialysis is sometimes used to circulate a person's blood through a warming machine before returning it to the body.

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