Today in History: Miracle on the Hudson - 15 Years After Making a Big Splash
by M.C. Millman
On January 15, 2009, Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles pulled off what has become the most famous emergency landing in modern aviation history in what is known today as The Miracle on the Hudson.
The US Airways Flight 1549, heading to Charlotte, North Carolina, was forced to make an emergency landing, which was done directly onto the Hudson River. All 155 people onboard survived.
Things went wrong when the plane hit a flock of Canada geese at a height of around 3,000 feet at 3:27, shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. Both engines of the Airbus A320 were severely damaged as the tune of the engines changed drastically upon contact before shutting down as the smell of burning birds filled the cockpit.
“We’re gonna be in the Hudson,” Sullenberger told air traffic control once it was clear that there was no time to return to LaGuardia or to land at Teterboro Airport as the plane fell at a rate of nearly 1,000 feet per minute for the next three minutes and 32 seconds.
“I’m sorry, say again?” the air traffic controller responded.
“People do not survive landings on the Hudson River, and I thought it was his own death sentence,” Patrick Harten said later, according to The New York Times. “I believed at that moment I was going to be the last person to talk to anyone on that plane alive… I asked him to repeat himself, even though I heard him just fine. I simply could not wrap my mind around those words.”
Shortly thereafter, the plane flew low over the George Washington Bridge as hundreds of New Yorkers looked on and landed at 3:31 in the Hudson River, floating parallel to West 50th Street in Manhattan. The plane was able to float thanks to its fuel tanks, which were not full.
Emergency personnel rushed to the rescue, saving all on board despite some injuries as the plane began to fill with freezing water. Sullenberger, as captain, was the last to leave the plane after making sure everyone was rescued and all within 24 minutes of the crash.
“I believe now we’ve had a miracle on the Hudson,” New York Governor David A. Paterson was the first to say of the incredible event. “This is a potential tragedy that may have become one of the most magnificent days in the history of New York City agencies.”
While a National Transportation Safety Board official described the event as "the most successful ditching in aviation history," some were critical of Sullenberger's decision to land in the Hudson River. A lengthy investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that his decision was appropriate and, given the circumstances, provided the highest probability of survival.
The pilots and flight attendants received the Master's Medal of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators in recognition of their "heroic and unique aviation achievement."
The aircraft was removed from the Hudson a few days after the landing and was purchased by the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. The museum put the plane and its engines on display.