New York plane crash, Hudson River plane crash
Stuart Ramson/AP
Josh Peltz, of Charlotte, N.C., left, and another unidentified survivor of the US Airways plane
crash in the
Hudson River, wait for a bus to take them from a First Aid center in Weehawken, N.J.

Flight 1549 Third US Airways Plane to Crash in NY in 20 Years

January 16, 2009 10:28 AM
by Anne Szustek
US Airways flight 1549 crash-landed into the Hudson River Thursday, marking the airline’s third crash of a flight originating from New York’s La Guardia Airport.

"Miracle on the Hudson" Flight Historically Significant

US Airways Flight 1549, which many people are now calling the “Miracle on the Hudson,” has developed into a story of the value of composure and skill under pressure.

Bound for Charlotte, N.C., from New York’s La Guardia Airport, the plane became disabled shortly after takeoff when it ran across a flock of geese and lost two engines. Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, a former Air Force pilot, and copilot Jeff Skiles have become national heroes for guiding the plane into a safe water landing in the Hudson River off the shore of midtown Manhattan.

“I’ve heard Sully say to people, ‘It’s rare for an airline pilot to have an incident in their career,’” Sullenberger’s wife Lorrie was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

But a flight carrying this much significance in the history of aviation is rare in its own right.

US Airways flight 1549 marks the first “ditching,” or water landing, in U.S. commercial aviation history. Private and military aircraft ditch about once a day, according to a U.S. Coast Guard statistic cited in a 1999 Slate article. Foreign commercial airliners have made water landings before, with varying levels of success.

But pilots receive little instruction in how to land on water. “Possibly because ditchings are both virtually nonexistent and virtually nonsurvivable, the Federal Aviation Administration does not require commercial pilots to train for them,” Slate writes.

Flight 1549’s crash landing is not quite as unusual for US Airways, however. Two other US Airways flights originating from La Guardia have crashed into frigid New York City winter waters in recent history.

On Sept. 20, 1989, US Airways flight 5050, also bound for Charlotte, went down because of a rudder deflection during takeoff. Two died and 45 were injured in the crash.

Larry Martin, a social worker from Brooklyn, N.Y. who was on that flight, told Time magazine, “When we got off, we were in the water.” Passengers who did not know how to swim held on to each other and to parts of the plane’s fuselage and chunks of driftwood for safety.

It turned out that the copilots on the flight had either little or no experience flying Boeing 737s, the craft used in flight 5050. Pilot Michael Martin had only been flying Boeing 737s for two months. His copilot, Constantine Kleissaf, who was at the controls, had never before been in the cockpit of a Boeing 737. The FAA suspended both pilots’ licenses.

Less than three years later, US Airways flight 405, bound for Cleveland after a long delay, crashed due to deicing problems. The plane crashed in Flushing Bay, which is adjacent to LaGuardia Airport. Twenty-seven people died in that crash after struggling to free themselves from their seat belts and swim out from the overturned aircraft.

The type of plane involved in that accident, the Dutch-made Fokker F-28, had been fingered in a Canadian report advising that model was susceptible to ice buildup.

Background: US Airways Flight 1549

US Airways Flight 1549 left LaGuardia Airport around 3 p.m. Jan. 15 and was airborne for about six minutes, when the flight crew ran into problems as the the plane approached a flock of geese, reported WNBC’s Tim Minton. Upon hitting the birds, the plane lost both engines, according to reports.

“A 4-pound bird exerts more than 6 tons of force if hit by a plane traveling 200 mph—some geese weigh up to 15 pounds,” writes WNBC.

The plane landed in the Hudson River near the USS Intrepid between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan. All on board have been safely rescued, although the passengers and flight crew had to contend with frigid waters. Temperatures in New York were in the high teens to low 20s Fahrenheit.

“I saw it hit the river,” a caller told local TV station WNBC. “It just came crashing down into the river. I was wondering why it came down so low; there’s no airport around here.”

Erica Schietenger, who works in an office building at New York’s Chelsea Piers, overlooking the Hudson, told New York City radio station 1010 WINS, “I saw what appeared to be a tail fin of a plane sticking out of the water. … All the boats have sort of circled the area.’”

Flocks of birds were behind two recent US Air Force plane crashes: one in Alaska in 1995, which saw 24 casualites, and one a year later in the Netherlands that killed 34 people.

Reference: What to do in a water landing

To stay safe in case of a water landing, also known as “ditching,” eHow suggests that passengers first and foremost study the safety instruction card, located in the seat pocket, as well as pay attention to the flight attendants’ safety demonstration at the beginning of the flight. Flyers should learn how to use in-flight life preservers, however, they should never inflate them while still in the plane.

“When an Ethiopian Airlines 767 ditched near the Comoros Islands, the cabin broke apart, filled with water, and several passengers with pre-inflated vests were unable to move freely and escape beneath the rising water,” writes the author of’s “Ask the Pilot” column. “The vests are designed to provide some buoyancy even if punctured, so if you're unconscious and haven't yet pulled the cord to discharge the little CO2 cylinder, you’ll still float with your head above the surface.”

Once life preservers are put on, passengers, after unbuckling their seatbelts, should hold onto a fixed part of the plane, like a seat, to keep steady, and move hand over hand to the nearest exit. Once out of the plane, resist the urge to kick immediately and push out of the aircraft, holding on until completely out of the plane. If underwater, follow breath bubbles and exhale slowly while approaching the surface.

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