All 155 people on board left the aircraft through emergency exits
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James Bone and Christine Seib in New York
More than 150 people survived a dramatic rescue after a US Airways Airbus made an emergency landing last night on the Hudson River. At least 78 people were treated by paramedics, including a flight attendant whose leg was broken.
Survivors and officials said all 150 passengers and crew of five on board left the plane through emergency exits, with some standing on the wing before being rescued by ferry boat and police launches. Chesley Sullenberger III, the pilot, refused to don a life vest and left the aircraft last.
The Airbus A320 had taken off from New York’s LaGuardia airport six minutes earlier, bound for Charlotte, North Carolina, when it hit a flock of birds that disabled two engines, officials said. The pilot told the passengers to brace for impact before the aircraft glided on the Hudson River just off Manhattan’s West 48th Street. The Federal Aviation Authority said the plane was aloft for only about three minutes.
Jeff Kolodjay said that he heard what sounded like an explosion a few minutes after take-off. “The engine blew. There was fire everywhere and it smelled like gas,” he said.
The pilot radioed the control tower, asking to return to LaGuardia. He was given clearance. The last transmission between the pilot and controller was the controller’s order to divert to Teterboro, an airstrip in New Jersey, for an emergency landing. At that point the aircraft’s radio fell silent.
After landing on the Hudson, the aircraft, surrounded immediately by commuter ferries and later by rescue boats, floated downstream as hundreds watched from office towers overlooking the Hudson.
As the passengers clambered out on to the wings through the emergency exits, the aircraft began to sink and the cabin started filling with water.Some of the passengers slipped and tumbled into the freezing river with temperatures plunging below minus 6C (21F). Rescuers in Coast Guard vessels and ferry boats arrived, opened the door and pulled passengers in yellow life vests from the aircraft. It eventually sank. Witnesses said the pilot showed great skill guiding the plane down, hitting the water at an estimated speed of 140 knots.
“I see a commercial airliner coming down, looking like it’s landing right in the water,” said Bob Read, who was in his office in Manhattan. “This looked like a controlled descent.”
Captain Sullenberger’s wife Lori said: “When he called me he said, ‘There’s been an accident. At first I thought it was minor, but then he told me the circumstances and my body started shaking and I rushed to get our daughters out of school.”
Government officials do not believe the crash is related to terrorism.
Joe Mazzone, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot, said it was not unusual for birds to strike aircraft. In fact, he said, if there are birds in the area when a plane prepares for take-off, the tower will alert the crew. “They literally just choke out the engine and it quits,” Mr Mazzone said.
LaGuardia airport has a long history of aircraft ending up in the river. The runways are built out over the water and have been criticised repeatedly for being too short. The New York authorities decided it would be too costly to extend them.
— In 1992, 27 people died when a US Air Fokker F28 toppled into the river at the end of the runway after struggling to take off because of ice on the wings. The water was only five feet deep but the fuselage broke up and turned upside down.
— In 1989, a US Air flight bound for Charlotte, North Carolina, the same destination as the aircraft in yesterday’s crash, rolled into the East River after aborting take-off. Three people died.
— In 1959, an American Airlines aircraft crashed on approach into the East River, killing 65 of the 73 people on board.