155 People Walk Away From Jet's Water Landing

The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into what caused the two engines on a US Airways jetliner to fail shortly after takeoff Thursday from New York's LaGuardia Airport. The plane ditched in the Hudson River near midtown Manhattan. All 155 people aboard were quickly pulled to safety aboard rescue craft and private boats.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. And the passengers of US Airways Flight 1549 have a lot of people to thank this morning. There is the pilot, who safely landed the crippled aircraft in the Hudson River yesterday afternoon; there are the ferry-boat, workers who helped rescue all 155 people on board; then there are the emergency crews, who pulled people from the frigid water. NPR's Robert Smith tells us the story from New York.

ROBERT SMITH: It was three in the afternoon when Captain Chesley Sullenberger pushed back Flight 1549 from the gate at LaGuardia Airport. It was a clear, freezing day, very little wind, and everything seemed normal as the plane climbed over the northern end of Manhattan. Then, a minute after takeoff, Sullenberger radioed air traffic control. He said they had a double bird strike, which usually means birds have hit both engines. For the passengers onboard, it sounded like...

Mr. JEFF KOLODJAY (Passenger, US Airways Flight 1549): Explosion and our plane dropped. That was scary.

SMITH: Jeff Kolodjay was in seat 22A. He could see smoke coming from the left engine.

Mr. KOLODJAY: It was pretty scary, man. Like, I thought he was going to say, circle back to LaGuardia, because I've flown out of LaGuardia a lot, and I knew you could come around this way and circle in, in that runway over there, and he goes, just brace for impact. I said, oh, this is going to be ugly, man.

SMITH: Six rows forward, Fred Berretta looked out his window and saw the Hudson River coming up fast below the plane.

Mr. FRED BERRETTA (Passenger, US Airways Flight 1549): The only time there was really shouting was when we were just about to hit the water, and people were yelling to the folks in the exit row to prepare to get the doors open.

SMITH: From the office buildings of midtown Manhattan, people who saw the plane land in the water said it seemed under control. The captain, Chesley Sullenberger III, is a former fighter pilot with 40 years flying experience. Already, aviation experts are calling it one of the most remarkable emergency landings they've seen. But the pilot was also lucky. The plane went down right across from the ferry terminal of New York Waterways. Vinnie Lombardi, the captain of the ferry Thomas Jefferson, was just pulling out when he saw the floating aircraft and its frightened passengers.

Mr. VINNIE LOMBARDI (Ferry Boat Captain, Thomas Jefferson, NY Waterway): They were on the raft on the wing, and there were a few people in the water.

SMITH: He was over there in three minutes, and the crew knew exactly what to do. They practiced these water rescues every couple of weeks. Hector Rabanez and Wilfredo Rivera went to the railing of the ship.

Mr. WILFREDO RIVERA (Crewmember, Thomas Jefferson, NY Waterway): People are panicky. They said, hurry up.

Mr. HECTOR RABANEZ (Deckhand, Thomas Jefferson, NY Waterway): Yeah, they said the water's cold. The water's cold. The water's cold.

Mr. RIVERA: Because the water's cold. Everybody was nervous, everybody's screaming, so everybody was in shock. So, I tell Hector, let's get the ladder down. We got the ladder down. We started getting people off.

SMITH: They rescued 56 people. Meanwhile, 14 other boats had arrived to help. A police helicopter hovered above the scene. Rescue diver Michael Delaney saw a woman in distress in the 42-degree water and jumped in.

Detective MICHAEL DELANEY (Harbor Scuba Team, New York Police Department): She was very frantic at the time. I just told her to relax. I asked her what her name was. She said, please don't let me go. She thought that the boat was going to run over us at the time. And then we helped her up on to the boat.

SMITH: The plane's Captain Sullenberger twice walked the aisles of his aircraft, making sure that every passenger was out. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a pilot himself, had nothing but praise.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Independent, New York City): The pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure that everybody got out.

SMITH: People who have worked with Sullenberger say they aren't surprised. Sully, as he's know to his friends, runs a safety consulting company on the side and is a member of UC Berkeley's Center for Catastrophic Risk Management. Bob Bea, the co-founder of the center, said he got goose bumps when he heard Sully was the pilot.

Dr. ROBERT BEA (Civil Engineering, Co-founder, Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, University of California, Berkeley): I thought, well, if I was on that airplane, I'd want Sully at the flight deck in charge, because he knows how to do it right.

SMITH: After the rescue, the half-submerged US Airways plane floated down the Hudson River. It was eventually towed to the southern tip of Manhattan. It's docked there this morning, awaiting the 20-person federal team who will figure out just what happened to the flight. Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

MONTAGNE: One more thing: As of this morning, there were already 11 Facebook fan clubs devoted to Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III. One group of the pilot's fans has 650 members and growing, and there are about 200 comments from Rockford, Illinois, England, Germany and Nigeria. The one from Nigeria reads: You are the man! My hats are doffed for you.

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US Airways River Rescue A 'Miracle On The Hudson'

The pilot of the Airbus A320, identified as C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, is being hailed as a hero. i i

hide captionThe pilot of the Airbus A320, identified as C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, is being hailed as a hero.

Safety Reliability Methods/AP
The pilot of the Airbus A320, identified as C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, is being hailed as a hero.

The pilot of the Airbus A320, identified as C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, is being hailed as a hero.

Safety Reliability Methods/AP
This image taken from WNBC-TV shows a US Airways plane that went down Thursday in the Hudson River. i i

hide captionThis image taken from WNBC-TV shows a US Airways plane that went down Thursday in the Hudson River in New York.

WNBC-TV, AP
This image taken from WNBC-TV shows a US Airways plane that went down Thursday in the Hudson River.

This image taken from WNBC-TV shows a US Airways plane that went down Thursday in the Hudson River in New York.

WNBC-TV, AP

New York Gov. David Paterson called it a "miracle on the Hudson."

Minutes after taking off from New York's La Guardia Airport on Thursday, US Airways Flight 1549 was forced to make an emergency landing in the icy waters of the Hudson River after the jet lost power. Emergency crews and rescue workers descended on the river and were able to get all 150 passengers and 5 crew members out safely.

The pilot of the Airbus A320, identified as C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, is being hailed as a hero.

The plane took off at 3:26 p.m. en route to Charlotte, N.C., and went down minutes later, according to a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman. It landed in the river near 48th Street in Manhattan.

National Air Traffic Controllers Union spokesman Doug Church said a US Airways pilot reported a "double bird strike" less than 60 seconds after takeoff. The pilot planned to make an emergency landing at the airport in Teterboro, N.J., but instead went safely into the Hudson.

The FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown, said the plane may have been hit by birds, but the cause of the crash has not yet been determined. The National Transportation Safety Board has already begun its investigation.

Passengers reported hearing bang or thud-like sounds from the engines shortly after takeoff. Almost immediately after the apparent failure of both engines, the pilot told passengers to "brace for impact."

Sullenberger, a former Air Force fighter pilot with more than 40 years of flying experience, was able to glide the plane into the water. Passengers reported that the emergency exits were opened quickly, and many people were able to scramble onto the wing and into life rafts. Others were able to walk directly onto ferries that had swarmed around the wreck and quickly became rescue boats. One ferry boat captain reportedly rescued at least 30 passengers.

A relatively small number of passengers were forced into the frigid water, but they too were quickly rescued.

Several passengers were taken to local hospitals, where some were treated for hypothermia.

At a late afternoon news conference, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the rescue effort by New York, New Jersey and federal officials and other rescuers "fast, brave work."

Bloomberg said he had spoken with Sullenberger, who told him he walked the length of the plane twice to make sure everyone got out safely before he exited the plane.

Sullenberger of Danville, Calif., also runs a safety consulting firm called Safety Reliability Methods. One safety expert said of the pilot, "If I was on that airplane, I'd want Sully at the flight deck in charge because he knows how to do it right."

Families and friends of those on the flight seeking information can call (800) 679-8215 or go to www.usa.att.com/traveler.

With reporting by Wendy Kaufman, Linton Weeks, Margot Adler and The Associated Press.

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