The partly submerged Airbus A320 floated along a pier in Battery Park City on Thursday night. More Photos >
A US Airways jetliner with 155 people aboard lost power in both engines, possibly from striking birds, after taking off from La Guardia Airport on Thursday afternoon. The pilot ditched in the icy Hudson River and all on board were rescued by a flotilla of converging ferries and emergency boats, the authorities said.
What might have been a catastrophe in New York — one that evoked the feel if not the scale of the Sept. 11 attack — was averted by a pilot’s quick thinking and deft maneuvers, and by the nearness of rescue boats, a combination that witnesses and officials called miraculous.
As stunned witnesses watched from high-rise buildings on both banks, the Airbus A320, which had risen to 3,200 feet over the Bronx and banked left, came downriver, its fuselage lower than many apartment terraces and windows, in a carefully executed touchdown shortly after 3:30 p.m. that sent up huge plumes of water at midstream, between West 48th Street in Manhattan and Weehawken, N.J.
On board, the pilot, Chesley B. Sullenberger III, 57, unable to get back to La Guardia, had made a command decision to avoid densely populated areas and try for the Hudson, and had warned the 150 passengers to brace for a hard landing. Most had their heads down as the jetliner slammed into the water, nose slightly up, just three minutes after takeoff on what was to be a flight to Charlotte, N.C.
Many on board and watching from the shores were shocked that the aircraft did not sink immediately. Instead, it floated, twisting and drifting south in strong currents, as three New York Waterway commuter ferries moved in. Moments later, terrified passengers began swarming out the emergency exits into brutally cold air and onto the submerged wings of the bobbing jetliner, which began taking in water.
As the first ferry nudged up alongside, witnesses said, some passengers were able to leap onto the decks. Others were helped aboard by ferry crews. Soon, a small armada of police boats, fireboats, tugboats and Coast Guard craft converged on the scene, and some of them snubbed up to keep the jetliner afloat. Helicopters brought wet-suited police divers, who dropped into the water to help with the rescues.
Over the next hour, as a captivated city watched continuous television reports and the Hudson turned from gold to silver in the gathering winter twilight, all of the passengers, including at least one baby, and both pilots and all three flight attendants, were transferred to the rescue boats — a feat that unfolded as the white-and-blue jetliner continued to drift south.
When all were out, the pilot walked up and down the aisle twice to make sure the plane was empty, officials said.
Brought ashore on both sides of the river, the survivors were taken to hospitals in Manhattan and New Jersey, mostly for treatment of exposure to the brutal cold: 18 degrees in the air, about 35 degrees in the water that many had stood in on the wings up to their waists.
Still, most of them walked ashore, some grim with fright and shivering with cold, wrapped in borrowed coats. But others were smiling, and a few were ready to give interviews to mobs of reporters and television cameras. Some described their survival as a miracle, a sentiment repeated later by city and state officials; others gave harrowing accounts of an ordeal whose outcome few might have imagined in such a crisis.
Even the aircraft was saved for examination by investigators — towed down the Hudson and tied up at Battery Park City. In the glare of floodlights, the top of its fuselage, part of a wing and the blue-and-red tail fin jutted out of the water, but its US Airways logo and many of its windows were submerged.
“We’ve had a miracle on 34th Street,” Gov. David A. Paterson said at a late-afternoon news conference in Manhattan. “I believe now we’ve had a miracle on the Hudson. This pilot, somehow, without any engines, was somehow able to land this plane, and perhaps without any injuries to the passengers. This is a potential tragedy that may have become one of the most magnificent days in the history of New York City agencies.”
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that there had been few injuries and that the pilot had done “a masterful job.”
W. Douglas Parker, chairman and chief executive of US Airways, and officials of the Federal Aviation Administration said that Flight 1549 had taken off from La Guardia at 3:26 p.m., bound for Charlotte. It headed north, across the East River and over the Bronx on a route that would involve a sweeping left turn to head south. But both engines lost power about a minute into the flight.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 20, 2009
Because of an editing error, an article on Friday about the crash-landing of a US Airways jet in the Hudson River misstated, in some editions, the timing of the most recent commercial jet crash in the United States. It took place last month in Denver, not 30 months ago in Lexington, Ky.