The pilot of a US Airways jet which made an emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River Thursday is being hailed as a hero after his quick thinking averted what could have been a serious tragedy.
The Airbus A320 had just taken off from LaGuardia airport en route to Charlotte, North Carolina when both engines failed, possibly due to double bird strikes.
Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III considered returning to the airport but once he realized he would not make it he opted for an emergency water landing instead.
None of the 150 passengers or crew died in the crash, and very few people were injured. Ferries and rescue vehicles were on hand immediately to pluck passengers from the wings and water, and tugboats kept the plane afloat while the rescue was underway.
Authorities are citing the pilot’s 29 years of aviation experience and his ability to keep cool under pressure for getting the plane out of the sky without injury or fatalities.
The Hudson River corridor between the skyscrapers of Manhattan Island and New Jersey is very narrow, but Captain Sullenberger navigated it successfully without engine power. He also avoided hitting the George Washington Bridge by only a few hundred feet and managed to put the plane in the water at just the right angle to prevent it from sinking too quickly.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the pilot did a “masterful” job getting the plane down, and plans to present the crew with a key to the city to reward them for their “inspiring” work.
Aviation experts say that water landings are preferable to ground landings in built-up areas because they not only reduce the risk of ground casualties, but they are less likely to break the plane apart.
Teams led by the NTSB are beginning the initial phase of investigation. Authorities towed the partially-submerged plane to a location near Battery Park at the south end of Manhattan, and have placed a marine crane and a barge near it to position it. It’s not yet known if and when the plane can be safely hauled out of the water and still remain intact.
In addition to his long career as a pilot, Captain Sullenberger is founder, president and CEO of Safety Reliability Methods Inc., which provides safety strategies for a variety of industries, particularly the aviation industry. According to the company, he is a former U.S. Air Force (USAF) fighter pilot, has served as an instructor and Air Line Pilots Association safety chairman, and has participated in several USAF and NTSB accident investigations.
By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.
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