NTSB: Pilot landed in Hudson to avoid catastrophe
(AP) - The pilot of a crippled US Airways jetliner madea split-second decision to put down in the Hudson River becausetrying to return to the airport after birds knocked out bothengines could have led to a "catastrophic" crash in a populatedneighborhood, he told investigators Saturday.
Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger said that in the fewminutes he had to decide where to set down the powerless planeThursday afternoon, he felt it was "too low, too slow" and neartoo many buildings to go anywhere else, according to the NationalTransportation Safety Board account of his testimony.
The pilot and his first officer provided their first account toNTSB investigators Saturday of what unfolded inside the cockpit ofUS Airways Flight 1549 after it slammed into a flock of birds andlost both engines.
Co-pilot Jeff Skiles, who was flying the plane at takeoff, sawthe birds coming in perfect formation, and made note of it.Sullenberger looked up, and in an instant his windscreen was filledwith big, dark-brown birds.
"His instinct was to duck," said NTSB board member KittyHiggins, recounting their interview. Then there was a thump, thesmell of burning birds, and silence as both aircraft engines cutout.
The account illustrated how quickly things deteriorated afterthe bump at 3,000 feet, and the pilots' swift realization thatreturning to LaGuardia or getting to another airport wasimpossible.
With both engines out, Higgins said, flight attendants describedcomplete silence in the cabin, "like being in a library." A smokyhaze and the odor of burning metal or electronics filled the plane.
The blow had come out of nowhere. The NTSB said radar dataconfirmed that the aircraft intersected a group of "primarytargets," almost certainly birds, as the jet climbed over theBronx. Those targets had not been on the radar screen of the airtraffic controller who approved the departure, Higgins said.
After the bird impact, Sullenberger told investigators heimmediately took over flying from his co-poilot and made a seriesof command decisions.
Returning to LaGuardia, he quickly realized, was out. So wasnearby Teterboro Airport, where he had never flown before, andwhich would require him to take the jet over densely populatednorthern New Jersey.
"We can't do it," he told air traffic controllers. "We'regonna be in the Hudson."
The co-pilot kept trying to restart the engines, while checkingoff emergency landing procedures on a three-page list that the crewnormally begins at 35,000 feet.
Sullenberger guided the gliding jet over the George WashingtonBridge and looked for a place to land.
Pilots are trained to set down near a ship if they have toditch, so they can be rescued before sinking, and Sullenbergerpicked a stretch of water near Manhattan's commuter ferryterminals. Rescuers were able to arrive within minutes.
It all happened so fast, the crew never threw the aircraft's"ditch switch," which seals off vents and holes in the fuselageto make it more seaworthy.
As the details of the river landing emerged Saturday,investigators worked to pull the airliner from the river. Afterthey struggled most of the day with logistics, a crane began tryingto raise the submerged jet late Saturday evening.
With its load of water, the craft was estimated to weigh 1million pounds. The process was expected to last into the night.The jet was entirely submerged next to a sea wall in lowerManhattan and blocks of ice blanketed the river surface and wereforming around the plane.
The NTSB said sonar teams may have located the sunken leftengine of the plane. Preliminary radar reports identified an objectdirectly below the crash site.
Crews need to remove the cockpit voice and flight-data recordersand find that engine. Divers originally thought both engines werelost, but realized Saturday that one was still attached. The waterhad been so dark and murky that they couldn't see it.
The investigation played out as authorities released the firstvideo showing the spectacular crash landing. Security cameras on aManhattan pier captured the Airbus A320 as it descended in acontrolled glide, then threw up a spray as it slid across the riveron its belly.
The video also illustrated the swift current that pulled theplane down the river as passengers walked out onto the wings andferry boats moved in for the rescue.
Authorities also released a frantic 911 call that captured thedrama of the flight. A man from the Bronx called at 3:29 p.m.Thursday, three minutes after the plane took off.
"Oh my God! It was a big plane. I heard a big boom just now. Welooked up, and the plane came straight over us, and it was turning.Oh my God!" the caller told 911.
At almost the same moment, the pilot told air-trafficcontrollers that he would probably "end up in the Hudson."
Sullenberger was seen entering a conference room of a lowerManhattan hotel, surrounded by federal investigators, before hisinterview Saturday. The silver-haired pilot was wearing a whiteshirt and slacks and seemed composed.
When a reporter approached him for comment, one of the officialsresponded: "No chance."
NBC said "Today" show host Matt Lauer would interviewSullenberger from Washington on Monday, a day beforePresident-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated.
His wife, Lorrie Sullenberger said "the enormity of thesituation" had only begun to sink in Friday night as she watchedthe news.
"It was actually the first time that I cried since the wholeincident started," she said on "The Early Show" on CBS. She alsosaid the family was making plans to attend the inauguration.
She suggested the happy ending was good for the country.
"I think everybody needed some good news, frankly," she said.
For extended coverage of the plane crash and press conferences, go to Channel 612 on your iO Digital Cable Box.
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