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As Flight 1549 Emergency Landing Probe Continues, Pilot and Crew Are Praised

As more details into Thursday's emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 emerge, aviation experts praised pilot Chesley Sullenberger 3rd for his smooth handling of the airplane following its double engine loss. An aviation expert and a pilot discuss the extraordinary water landing.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Government investigators are beginning the painstaking work of finding out what went wrong with U.S. Airways Flight 1549, still submerged at the southern tip of Manhattan.

    But, for the 150 passengers who survived the accident in the Hudson River yesterday, there is no mystery about what went right.

  • PASSENGER:

    You have to give it to the pilot, man. He made a hell of a landing.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Today, the New York tabloid press called him a superhero. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, 57 years old, and a veteran fighter pilot, is being widely praised.

    MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), Mayor of New York: His brave actions have inspired millions of people in the city and millions more around the world. I have a key to the city right here. This is what it looks like, for those of you that have never seen one. And I'm going to hold on to it until we have the opportunity to present it to the incredibly brave pilot, co-pilot, and the crew of U.S. Airways Flight 1549.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The plane took off from New York's La Guardia Airport and headed northwest over the city. Within minutes, it was in trouble, after reportedly flying through a flock of birds that crippled both engines of the Airbus A-320 jetliner.

  • PASSENGER:

    Less than two minutes up in the air, there was a big boom. Everyone smelled smoke.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now flying at below than 4,000 feet, the pilot quickly turned to avoid populated areas. He considered diverting to local airports, but then changed course. He avoided the George Washington Bridge on Manhattan's West Side, and positioned the plane over the Hudson for a water landing.

  • PASSENGER:

    I just heard the pilot, "Brace yourself for impact." You know, how do you brace yourself for impact?

  • EYEWITNESS:

    We just saw the airplane gliding in the air, and it just hit the Hudson River. It hit the Hudson River very hard. When it hit the Hudson River, it just looked — looked like a volcano exploded. There was a lot of water up in the air. Then, I called 911.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What followed was a largely calm and controlled evacuation of the passengers, led by the air crew, as ferry boats and tour vessels came to their aid.

  • BILL ZUHOSKI, Passenger:

    The water was coming up so fast in the back, I ripped all of my clothes off, thinking, you know, I would be lighter. I might have to swim.

  • MAN:

    They were standing on the wings. And there were people in the water, a couple lifeboats they already had out. So, we were the first boat to go over there and start pulling people out of the water.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The authorities have asked the pilot and crew not to talk to the news media, for now. But the pilot's wife and two daughters appeared outside their home in California this morning.

  • LORRIE SULLENBERGER, Pilot’s Wife:

    We are very grateful that everyone is off the airplane safely. And that was really what my husband asked to convey to everyone.

    And, of course, we are very proud of dad.

    My husband has said over the years that it is highly unlikely for any pilot to ever have an incident in his career, let alone something like this.

    So, I'm not afraid. It never crosses my mind. And, like everyone else, I was stunned when he called and said, there's been an incident. And, even then, I assumed, you know, it was a tug that maybe had bumped the airplane. I had — you know, your mind just never goes to something like this.

  • QUESTION:

    But, to hear the praise for him, I'm sure — well, you say it's well-deserved praise?

  • LORRIE SULLENBERGER:

    Oh, absolutely.

  • QUESTION:

    What kind of a man is he?

  • LORRIE SULLENBERGER:

    He — I have said for a long time that he's a — he's a pilot's pilot, and he loves the art of the airplane. So…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That pilot's pilot is called a humble man. He and his quick actions are already being immortalized in cyberspace. The social networking site Facebook is filling up with homages to him from people around the world.

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