January 19, 2009
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The Hudson River New York has been the scene of a dramatic landing for a stricken aircraft. The pilot, Chesley B. Sullenberg III, an ex-USAF fighter pilot and a professional pilot for 40 years, made what has been described as a text-book landing, thus saving the life of all 155 on board the A320 Airbus.
The plane had just taken off from La Guardia airport, when it crossed the path of a flock of geese. There was a thud and both engines lost power. The geese also hit the windshield of the aircraft. The captain of the plane took the controls from the co-pilot so that the co-pilot could concentrate on trying to restart the engines. Sullenberg notified the control tower that there had been an incident and that both engines had lost power. They briefly discussed action to be taken for a landing. Sullenberg ruled out returning to La Guardia and then ruled out Teterborough airfield in New Jersey. There was a high risk of a greater tragedy by attempting either landing. The only avenue left was to attempt the landing on the water.
Sullenberg knew that he had to get this landing right, and he narrowly missed a bridge as he approached a point an area of the river that would mean the best chance of a rescue. He managed to do everything necessary to execute the perfect landing on water such that the airplane did not break up on landing. The passengers were ordered to brace for a hard landing, and they did. The cabin-crew gave quick instructions before sitting and bracing for the landing on the water. Unfortunately one member of the crew has been injured. As soon as the plane landed the cabin crew and passengers went into action. Women and children were the first to exit, followed by the other passengers, and finally the captain of the aircraft. He paced the length of the aircraft twice before leaving, making sure that no one was left on board the sinking plane.
The crash is now the subject of an investigation. The investigation will include what went wrong – why did the engines lose power? In other words verifying that there was a double bird-strike. It will also investigate what went right during the flight and subsequent landing and rescue of the passengers.
There are lessons to be learned from every aircraft accident. This one is different because a tragedy was prevented. No doubt pilots will now practise in their flight simulators the steps taken by Sullenberg to safely land his bird on the water. In the past few days comparisons have been made between this landing and that of the plane that crashed off Ethiopia. The footage of the Ethiopian crash shows that the plane had banked before it hit the water – in other words it was not absolutely straight. However, in that incident the cabin crew were most likely fighting with the hijackers who were on board, and therefore the pilot did not have the ability to be able to straighten the plane prior to the crash into the sea. It is in fact not a very good comparison because of the extraordinary circumstances.
It is a miracle that no one died as a result of this incident and calling it a miracle does not in any way discount the actions of the aircrew as well as that of the passengers, and the rescue workers. What we saw was a well coordinated effort that saved 155 lives. The man who made that happen is Chesley B. Sullenberg.