[Guest post by DRJ]
Three and one-half minutes. That’s how long it took from the moment the birds hit the aircraft until the plane was in the Hudson.
Those and other details were released today regarding US Airways Flight 1549. According to the NTSB, Captain Chesley Barrett “Sully” Sullenberger III intentionally ditched in the Hudson River because he knew he couldn’t get back to the airport and he didn’t want to jeopardize the urban population:
“Co-pilot Jeff Skiles, who was flying the plane at takeoff, saw the birds coming in perfect formation, and made note of it. Sullenberger looked up, and in an instant his windscreen was filled with big, dark-brown birds.
“His instinct was to duck,” said NTSB board member Kitty Higgins, recounting their interview. Then there was a thump, the smell of burning birds, and silence as both aircraft engines cut out.
The account illustrated how quickly things deteriorated after the bump at 3,000 feet, and the pilots’ swift realization that returning to LaGuardia or getting to another airport was impossible.
With both engines out, Higgins said, flight attendants described complete silence in the cabin, “like being in a library.” A smoky haze and the odor of burning metal or electronics filled the plane.
The blow had come out of nowhere. The NTSB said radar data confirmed that the aircraft intersected a group of “primary targets,” almost certainly birds, as the jet climbed over the Bronx. Those targets had not been on the radar screen of the air traffic controller who approved the departure, Higgins said.
After the bird impact, Sullenberger told investigators he immediately took over flying from his co-poilot and made a series of command decisions.
Returning to LaGuardia, he quickly realized, was out. So was nearby Teterboro Airport, where he had never flown before, and which would require him to take the jet over densely populated northern New Jersey.
“We can’t do it,” he told air traffic controllers. “We’re gonna be in the Hudson.”
While the first officer tried to restart the engines, Sullenberger glided over the George Washington Bridge and elected to land near the ferry terminal, so the passengers would have a better chance at rescue. It happened so fast that they never flipped the Airbus’ “ditch switch” that sealed the bottom openings on the aircraft to make it more seaworthy.