NPR logo NTSB Looks For Cause Of Hudson River Jet Crash


NTSB Looks For Cause Of Hudson River Jet Crash

NPR's Robert Smith Reports On 'Morning Edition'

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Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were in New York City on Friday to find out what forced a US Airways jet to make a spectacular emergency landing into the frigid Hudson River minutes after takeoff.

About 20 members of the NTSB's "Go Team" flew Thursday night to New York — hours after Charlotte, N.C.-bound Flight 1549 made its forced landing after losing power. All 155 people on board were rescued.

NTSB investigators are expected to interview passengers, crew and pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who has been hailed as a hero. The 57-year-old Sullenberger has yet to share his story publicly and even declined to discuss the details with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

A minute into the flight, Sullenberger told air traffic controllers that birds had hit both of the plane's jet engines, but the NTSB warned the public against speculating about the causes of the accident.

Witnesses on the ground said Sullenberger did a masterful job of landing the crippled plane. Christopher Butler said he was at work in midtown Manhattan when a co-worker told him she saw a plane coming down.

"She said, 'There's a plane,' and we turned around and sure enough, there was a plane coming in, slow and level, and it touched down in the Hudson River," he said.

"Something was clearly wrong, but it was not evident from the manner in which it was flying," Butler said. "It was just touching down. It seemed oddly uneventful."

Investigators have one piece of good luck: The plane didn't sink, even after passengers were rescued. It eventually drifted down the Hudson River, ending up near Battery Park at the lower edge of Manhattan.

An FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown, said the plane may have been hit by birds, but the cause of the crash has not yet been determined.

Passengers reported hearing banging or thudding 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 ferryboat 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 Thursday afternoon news conference, Bloomberg commended the rescue effort by New York, New Jersey and federal officials and other rescuers. Bloomberg presented certificates Friday to the civilian and public employees involved in the rescue at a ceremony at City Hall.

James Ray, a spokesman for the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, said Sullenberger and the rest of the flight crew are resting and may meet with investigators later Friday or Saturday. He said the crew has been asked not speak to the press until after the federal investigators complete their work.

Sullenberger, of Danville, Calif., also runs a safety consulting firm called Safety Reliability Methods.

Families and friends of those on the flight seeking information can call US Airways at (800) 679-8215.

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

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