Today marks the 12th anniversary of what is known as the “Miracle on the Hudson”, when on January 15, 2009, a US Airways A320 landed on the Hudson River in New York City. Twelve years on (and one Clint Eastwood movie later), Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger remains a hero, and his deed one of the most admired in aviation history.
It all started when the US Airways Airbus A320-200, registered N106US, took off around 15:25 local time from New York La Guardia (LGA) to carry out flight US-1549 to Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), in North Carolina. For the first two minutes, everything seemed nominal.
“Birds,” the captain warned his co-pilot, the First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles, a second before the airplane hit the flock, sucking in two geese per engine and causing both of them to lose power. At a mere 3,200 feet (1km) altitude, the odds were against him to turn back and land in his airport of departure, the option given by La Guardia departure controller. “Unable, we may end up in Hudson,” the captain answered, a premonitory sentence that since became famous.
In the next two minutes that followed this sentence, the captain and his first officer showed incredible calm and discipline. After considering landing at the small Teterboro Airport (TEB) in New Jersey, the crew eventually decided to land on the icey Hudson River.
It took only twenty minutes after the impact for the 150 passengers and 5 crew members to be evacuated the aircraft and picked up by mostly tourist boats that were cruising on the Hudson.
This moment was immortalized by a passenger of one of the ferries, Janis Krums, who took a picture of the plane and posted it on Twitter, a very young platform at the time. It was this tweet, along with its picture, that alerted the media all around the world.
http://twitpic.com/135xa – There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.
— Janis Krums (@jkrums) January 15, 2009
78 people were injured in the incident, most of them superficially. In its May 4, 2010, report, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) praised “the decision-making of the flight crew members and their crew resource management during the accident sequence,” along with the cabin crew behavior during the evacuation.
“Once the birds and the airplane collided and the accident became inevitable, so many things went right,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “This is a great example of the professionalism of the crew members, air traffic controllers and emergency responders who all played a role in preserving the safety of everyone aboard.”
Even though the media soon named this event the “Miracle on Hudson,” reports show that the survival of all the people on board the aircraft had not much to do with luck or fate. It was mostly due to the professionalism of the people in charge.
To follow this incredible event through the words of its main protagonist, check out this Twitter thread made by Captain “Sully” Sullenberger himself.