Us Airways flight 1549

The Miracle on the Hudson. US Airways Flight 1549-full story

The Miracle on the Hudson is one of the most incredible stories in aviation. On January 15, 2009, an Airbus A320 operating United States Airways Flight 1549 landed on the Hudson River in New York after both engines were lost. All 155 people on board were saved by the decision and skill of the pilots. How did it happen and what was the aftermath?

The Aircraft and the people on board

Us Airways flight 1549
Greg L, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Miracle on the Hudson happened with an aircraft Airbus A320 powered by two General Electric CFM56 engines. It was sent to US Airways in 1999, according to simpleflying. The US Airways flight 1549 (call sign Cactus 1549) departed from LaGuardia Airport, New York to Charlotte, North Carolina. However, a great piece of luck is that this aircraft was equipped for a flight over water (life jackets, inflatable ramps, additional emergency exits) although the route for this flight was planned to be only over land.

The captain

A number of 150 passengers and 5 crew members (3 flight attendants and two pilots) boarded the plane. The captain of the aircraft was 57-year-old Chesley Sullenberger, an experienced pilot with over 19,000 hours of flight time at the time of the incident. He was also a fighter pilot until 1980. The first officer was Jeffrey Skiles who had only 37 hours of flight time on the Airbus A320, but he was also a very experienced pilot having logged 20,000 hours of flight time on other aircraft during his career.

Take-off and loss of engines

Canada geese bird
Canada geese bird

The takeoff was proceeding normally, visibility was good, and at 3:25 p.m. local time the pilots reported to the control tower that they were at 700 feet (210 meters) and climbing. About 3 minutes after takeoff, at an altitude of 2,828 feet (859 meters), Captain Sullenberger shouts “BIRDS”. A flock of large Canada Geese hit the plane and its engines. After this, both engines stopped. Captain Sullenberger took control of the aircraft, and the first officer handled the checklist for restarting the engines.

After the loss of the engines

US flight 1549
The aircraft involved in the incident, Edmund Seeger, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The engines stopped, but the aircraft climbed for another 19 seconds due to inertia. Captain Sullenberger turns on the APU which is a device that provides power to the aircraft for functions other than propulsion. The speed with which Sully made this decision proved to be crucial as this operation did not appear on the first pages of the checklist. After that, the captain radios a Mayday message. Sullenberger asks for a clearance to return to LaGuardia, but after the tower’s confirmation, he says he can’t return. In addition, landing at other nearby airports was considered. Teterboro Airport was prepared but the captain said, “We can’t do it … We’re gonna be in the Hudson”

Landing on the Hudson River

The flight path, ChrisnHouston, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

The aircraft began to glide over the Hudson River. The captain broadcast “brace for impact” to the passengers. At 3:31 p.m., 4 minutes after the bird strike, the aircraft hit the water and began to gradually slow down. On impact, the aircraft was at a speed of 230 km/h (140 mph). Most importantly, the plane landed successfully. At this point, the biggest problem became evacuating the passengers. Moreover, a big enough concern was the water starting to enter the aircraft and the fact that the water temperature was 19 °F (-7 °C).

Passenger evacuation

us airways flight 1549
Izno, cropped by Falcorian, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The four emergency exits next to the wings have been opened. From the main entrance, two inflatable slides were activated, on the left and right of the aircraft. Several boats soon arrived at the scene and began evacuating people. After a final check of the plane by Captain Sullenberger, the evacuation was complete. Fortunately, all 155 people on board were rescued, and the incident became known as The Miracle on the Hudson.

Results of the Investigation

Although the captain’s actions saved the passengers’ lives, they were not immediately recognized as the correct ones. It was disputed that the plane could have returned to LaGuardia Airport and that the captain’s decision cost the airline the loss of the plane. Eventually, it was proven that the plane could not safely return to the airport, and the captain became a national hero. This investigation was the subject of the movie “Sully” starring Captain Sullenberger played by Tom Hanks.

Did Sully fly again?

The captain flew until his retirement on March 3, 2010, when he was reunited for his final flight with the first officer Skiles. Jeffrey Skiles is still flying and working for American Airlines. Sully is currently an aviation safety speaker and expert in the safety field.

The aftermath of the The Miracle on the Hudson

us flight 1549 at museum
US Airways flight 1549 at museum, RadioFan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The aircraft was recovered from the water and is currently on display at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte. Passengers received at least $5,000 each based on their losses, and the most controversial decision was made regarding the birds that caused the incident. According to Wikipedia, as of 2017, a total of 70,000 birds have been intentionally killed as a result of The Miracle on the Hudson.

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