TOPICS > Nation

US Airways Plane Crashes Into Hudson River, but All Aboard Survive

January 15, 2009 at 6:10 PM EDT
Loading the player...
A US Airways Airbus 320 crashed into the icy waters of the Hudson River Thursday, apparently after birds struck the engine, but rescuers were able to pull more than 150 passengers and crew to safety. Reporters covering the story provide details on the crash.

JIM LEHRER: The airliner accident and rescue operation in New York’s Hudson River.

A short time ago, Doug Parker, the chairman and CEO of U.S. Airways, made this statement about the crash.

DOUG PARKER, Chairman & CEO, U.S. Airways: U.S. Airways is confirming passenger and crew names and will issue those as soon as possible. At this point, no additional details can be confirmed.

Our preliminary report is that everyone is off the plane and accounted for. We have activated our U.S. Airways care team of specially trained employee volunteers to assist those affected by this accident.

It’s premature to speculate about the cause of this accident. Out of respect for those affected, we would ask that you also resist the temptation to speculate.

The National Transportation Safety Board will conduct a thorough investigation to determine the probable cause, with our complete support and the support of many others.

Further, we are working with and will continue to cooperate fully the NTSB, local, state, and national authorities, and answers will emerge during the course of that investigation.

Right now, we’re working to care for those who have been touched by this accident. Members of our airline family will come together with these families to help however we can.

I’m on my way to New York shortly. In closing, safety is, has been, and forever will be our foremost priority at U.S. Airways. All of us at U.S. Airways are determined to determining the cause of this event and to assisting in every way possible and preventing a similar occurrence.

JIM LEHRER: For more on what happened, we have Dean Meminger, a reporter for the television service New York 1, and Ken Belson, metro reporter of New York Times online.

To you first, Ken.

First of all, thank you for being with us.

KEN BELSON, The New York Times: Sure.

JIM LEHRER: Now, let’s go through this from the beginning.

The plane took off short — from La Guardia airport. It was an A-320 Airbus, correct?

KEN BELSON: Correct, yes.


KEN BELSON: And left at around 3:26, headed north, and then started banking to the west, and then turned south down the Hudson River. It’s unclear when. So, we’re told birds entered the engines on both sides of the plane.

Birds caused engine failure

JIM LEHRER: And the -- but had the -- would the plane, under normal course of human events, have gone down the Hudson River anyhow? Was it -- was it headed that way anyhow? Or did it change after the birds supposedly hit the plane?

KEN BELSON: The latter.

I think, normally, it would continue out over New Jersey and then bank south towards North Carolina. Usually, planes are -- typically, you see planes flying up the Hudson River. But, in this case, I think the birds must have entered the engines right after takeoff.

It's unclear where, though. And the pilot was perhaps looking for a place to land the plane quickly and safely. And that would have been a logical place to do that, in the river.

JIM LEHRER: And both -- both engines were hit, correct? It must have been a -- is there any reporting yet on how -- how many birds or what -- what large scene of birds ran into this plane or the plane ran into?

KEN BELSON: It's unclear how many, but we heard from police authorities, or different authorities, that it was a -- quote -- "double bird incident," which means birds in both -- or engines on both sides of the plane, which is quite unusual. It's unclear whether it was one bird per engine or quite a few birds per engine.

If a plane is taking off and its nose is up and at a certain -- couple of thousand feet of altitude, it may be hard to actually see the birds and avoid them. And, besides, there are many birds around both Kennedy and La Guardia Airport.

JIM LEHRER: And the experts say -- and I guess it's been confirmed -- that that caused both of those engines just to go -- go out, right, just to go dead?

KEN BELSON: That's what we heard from people on the plane and people who saw the plane as it descended over the Hudson River; that's right.

JIM LEHRER: And then what did the pilot and the co-pilot together then do to the plane -- do with the plane, and how were they able to do it?

KEN BELSON: From what we can tell, it was a rather -- I wouldn't say a steady decline, but he apparently kept the wings even and the nose up, from passengers saying, it -- it obviously hit the water hard, but it's unclear at what speed.

But by not trying to turn the plane and bank back to the airplane, he probably saved it and made a -- an accurate landing right on the water, as -- as smooth as he could, I suppose, and also aided by the fact that he was on the river, but close to the piers, which meant that it was helpful for ferry boats to be able to get to it quickly.

Rescue boats arrived quickly

JIM LEHRER: And the eyewitnesses say the fuselage of the plane -- in other words, the front of the plane -- was up slightly, which -- which may have prevented that plane from -- from breaking up when it hit the water, correct?

KEN BELSON: That's what we understand, yes.


And then what happened, based on what the eyewitnesses have told you and others?

KEN BELSON: Afterwards, the -- the ferry boats got there very quickly. Some of them were commercial ferry boats that were going back and forth between New York and New Jersey.

There was a Circle Line tourist boat. A Coast Guard cutter was there rather quickly. And some of the ferry boats pulled right up to the wing of the plane. Some of the passengers were -- some did enter the water, but others just literally walked across the wing of the plane and onto boats, which is rather -- rather remarkable, really.

By about 4:45, about an hour after -- more than an hour after the water -- plane hit the water, most of the plane was then submerged. So, it was really quite quick, the rescue.

JIM LEHRER: Is there any word on how quick that was, how the -- what the -- what, there were -- of course, there were doors on both sides in the forward part of the aircraft, and now also over the wings; is that correct?

KEN BELSON: Yes, that's right.

And we have no report -- no -- nobody seemed to have died, and even some of the injuries seem to be relatively minor. I don't know the total time elapsed by getting everybody off the plane. The passengers said, although it was somewhat chaotic, it was remarkably orderly, also. We could see on, certainly, cameras looking out over the river that there were at least eight or nine boats circling around very quickly.

Police divers were in the water as well. So, all things considered, the fact that this happened during daylight, the fact that it happened near the shore during normal business hours, when there were many boats in the water, is really quite remarkable.

JIM LEHRER: Was it also remarkable that there was no -- apparently no panic on that plane once it hit?

KEN BELSON: That's what we have heard from passengers, that they were instructed -- we heard from several passengers that said that the -- they were told not to -- that there was going to be a -- an emergency landing.

Some passengers, we heard, were saying prayers. Others just ducked and got ready. And, of course, it was a hard landing. But I think the fact that it happened very smoothly -- they were all alert and aware of what was happening. So, yes, it seems like it was a very orderly procedure for getting off the plane.

JIM LEHRER: What's the word on how many of the passengers are -- have been hospitalized or have -- have -- or are being treated now for their injuries?

KEN BELSON: Just before I came on air with you, I heard as -- an administrator from one of the local hospitals here saying they were expecting anywhere from 25 to 50 people from the flight. And, in fact, they have gotten only 12.

So, that would suggest that some people weren't harmed at all. There was obviously some threat of hypothermia, so people did have to receive treatment for that. But there doesn't seem to be any major injuries, which is, again, remarkable.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, it is, indeed.

Ken Belson, thank you very much for being with us and updating us on this.


Witness saw engine fire


Now to Dean Meminger.

Dean, you had a particular -- we're talking to you by phone also from New York -- you were in a particular place at a particular time that can add some detail to this. Tell us about that.

DEAN MEMINGER, New York 1: Yes, sir.

I was up in the Bronx at the Bronx Zoo, right across from Fordham University, in my car. I was reporting on another story. And I heard a large -- a loud boom. And I said, my goodness, what is that? I thought it was a snowplow, but there was no truck around me.

So, I got out of the vehicle, and I -- I looked in the sky. And, at that point, I saw a plane going by with flames coming out of the rear of one of the engines. There was another gentleman next to me who happened to be riding his bike. He says, oh, my goodness, that plane is on fire.

So, immediately, we saw them make a U-turn, the crew of that plane. And I cover New York City and the Bronx, and I knew at that point that plane, with an engine on fire, they were turning to go back to La Guardia Airport in Queens.

At that point, we thought perhaps they would make it, because they weren't very far away. I heard the gentleman before say the plane took off at 3:26. And I saw this incident happen around 3:29. So, they were trying to head back, did not make it, but they did land.

What witnesses have told us at New York 1 News, that they landed smoothly on the Hudson River between New York City and New Jersey. And people said they were told that they were going to go back to La Guardia Airport. Then the pilot and crew came back on, saying, "No, we're going to make an emergency landing."

And, at that point, they landed on the Hudson River. But, from very early on, people on the ground, in the Bronx at least, they knew something was wrong, because we did hear a loud boom. And, then, when we looked up in the sky, we saw the flames coming from the engine.

Pilot, crew were skillful

JIM LEHRER: And that was clearly -- or at least based on everything we have been told up to this point -- that that was when the birds hit -- hit those two engines, correct?


Right around that time now, as I looked up, I had a clear shot of the plane. And, actually, I did get a few minutes -- a few seconds, rather, of video of the plane. I didn't see any birds around, but, obviously, a plane is moving so quickly.

But, from La Guardia Airport to Fordham University over the Bronx, it would take a plane no more than just a couple of minutes to get there.


DEAN MEMINGER: So, obviously, everything that I have heard so far, it does add up.

And, at that point, that's when they had the problem with the engines and decided to turn back around, unfortunately, did not make it to La Guardia Airport.

But I would like to add, I did speak to a scuba diver from the New York City Fire Department who went into the water. He said, you know what? This pilot and crew, they did an amazing job with bringing this plane down on the water the way they did. They didn't crash into any buildings, went over the water, landed it.

And, at this point, everyone was able to walk away from that crash, and in the frigid waters of New York City.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.

Well, Dean, thank you very much for being with us, as you say, maybe -- maybe a remarkable event, a miracle, who knows. And good work by the pilots.

And thank you very much.

DEAN MEMINGER: Thank you, sir.