Archive for Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hudson River plane skirted disaster at many turns

January 20, 2009


The badly damaged wing and engine of the US Airways Airbus A320 is inspected out of the water on a barge, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009, in New York. Workers plan to remove the plane during the day to an undisclosed location.

The badly damaged wing and engine of the US Airways Airbus A320 is inspected out of the water on a barge, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009, in New York. Workers plan to remove the plane during the day to an undisclosed location.

— Before it became an unforgettable story of luck and heroism, US Airways Flight 1549 was on course to be a catastrophe. In five minutes of flight, the stricken jetliner sprinted past one nightmare scenario after another.

The plane skirted skyscrapers and threaded through crowded airspace, horrifying spectators on the streets below. With no working engines, it had to clear the heavily traveled George Washington Bridge. Its landing strip was a stretch of the Hudson River full of commuter ferries. Had it not splash-landed in the river, the plane could have gone down in densely packed neighborhoods in New York City or northern New Jersey.

The abundance of possible catastrophic scenarios was clearly on the mind of the pilot, who told controllers that the jet was “too low, too slow” and near too many tall buildings to reach any airport.

“It was an amazing confluence,” said Karlene Roberts, co-director of the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of California, Berkeley. “So many things could have gone wrong that didn’t.”

Harrowing account

The run of good luck on the flight will be examined further by investigators as they inspect the jet wreckage for more clues about how a flock of birds managed to disable both engines and send the jet on its frightening obstacle course over a city of 8 million people.

The airliner was hoisted late Saturday from the ice-laden current and placed on a barge, its two flight data recorders sent to investigators in Washington. The barge was moved on Sunday night to a Jersey City, N.J., marina, where investigators hope to examine the plane more closely.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators interviewed the pilots on Saturday, and what emerged was a harrowing account of the split-second decisions they made in avoiding a crash.

It started with a wild stroke of misfortune minutes after the plane left LaGuardia Airport on Thursday for Charlotte, N.C. While bird strikes are common, commercial jet engines are fortified against them. They seldom disable an engine, let alone two.

The pilot, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, could hardly have been better prepared. The 58-year-old former fighter pilot was named best aviator in his class at the Air Force Academy, had flown for US Airways for 29 years and mastered glider flying. He also has investigated air disasters, even studying how airline crews behave in a crisis.

Sullenberger headed for the river, warning passengers to brace for impact and telling air traffic controllers simply: “We’re gonna be in the Hudson.”

Ahead was the George Washington Bridge — the graceful span that carries roughly 108 million vehicles a year between Manhattan and New Jersey. Though quickly losing altitude, the plane made it over the bridge, which rises as much as 600 feet above the water.

Risks of water landing

While a water landing seemed the safest bet, it also carried particular risks.

The goal would have been to set the plane down gently, to keep it from breaking apart and sinking rapidly. Pilots aim to slow a plane without stalling, so it doesn’t drop abruptly, and to keep the wings level.

Drag a wing tip into a wave, and the plane may overturn. If the landing gear is left down, the wheels will catch in the water and likely flip the aircraft. Pilots also need to try to avoid plowing headlong into waves that could tear up the fuselage. Luckily for Flight 1549, the Hudson was fairly calm.

Sullenberger pulled off the landing in textbook fashion.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago"Two days before US Airways Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River, passengers on the same route and same aircraft say they heard a series of loud bangs and the flight crew told them they could have to make an emergency landing, CNN has learned.Steve Jeffrey of Charlotte, North Carolina, told CNN he was flying in first class Tuesday when, about 20 minutes into the flight, "it sounded like the wing was just snapping off.""The red lights started going on. A little pandemonium was going on," Jeffrey recalled.He said the incident occurred over Newark, New Jersey, soon after the plane -- also flying as Flight 1549 -- had taken off from LaGuardia Airport in New York.""I fly about 50 to 60 times per year, and I've never heard a noise so loud," he said. "It wasn't turbulence, it wasn't luggage bouncing around. It was just completely like the engine was thrown against the side of the plane. It just -- it didn't shake the plane but it shook you out of the seat when you're drifting off, it really woke you up. And when it happened again, everyone just started looking at each other and there was a quiet murmuring around the plane, and you could feel the tension rising just in looking."

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