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US Airways Flight 1549

US Airways Flight 1549

US Airways Flight 1549 was an Airbus A320 which, in the climbout after takeoff from New York City's LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009, struck a flock of Canada geese just northeast of the George Washington Bridge and consequently lost all engine power. Unable to reach any airport, pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles glided the plane to a ditching in the Hudson River off Midtown Manhattan.[9] All 155 people aboard were rescued by nearby boats, and there were few serious injuries.

The accident came to be known as the "Miracle on the Hudson",[10] and a National Transportation Safety Board official described it as "the most successful ditching in aviation history".[11] The Board rejected the notion that the pilot could have avoided ditching by returning to LaGuardia or diverting to nearby Teterboro Airport.

The pilots and flight attendants were awarded the Master's Medal of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators in recognition of their "heroic and unique aviation achievement".[12]

US Airways Flight 1549
DateJanuary 15, 2009
SummaryControlled ditching after bird strikes caused dual engine failure
SiteHudson River in the Manhattan borough of New York City, opposite Weehawken, New Jersey (near Port Imperial)
40°46′10″N 74°00′17″W [189]
Aircraft typeAirbus A320-214
OperatorUS Airways
IATA flight No.US1549
ICAO flight No.AWE1549
Call signCACTUS 1549
Flight originLaGuardia Airport, New York City
StopoverCharlotte Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, North Carolina
DestinationSeattle–Tacoma International Airport, Seattle, Washington
Injuries100 (95 minor, 5 serious)[1]
Survivors155 (all)


N106US, the aircraft involved in the accident, at LaGuardia eight years earlier

N106US, the aircraft involved in the accident, at LaGuardia eight years earlier

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549[2] with call sign 'CACTUS 1549' was scheduled to fly from New York City's LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Charlotte Douglas (CLT), with direct onward service to Seattle–Tacoma International Airport. The aircraft was an Airbus A320-214 powered by two GE Aviation/Snecma-designed CFM56-5B4/P turbofan engines.[13][3]

The pilot in command was 57-year-old Chesley B. Sullenberger, a former fighter pilot who had been an airline pilot since leaving the United States Air Force in 1980. At the time, he had logged 19,663 total flight hours, including 4,765 in an A320; he was also a glider pilot and expert on aviation safety.[16][17] First officer Jeffrey B. Skiles, 49,[16][18] had accrued 20,727 career flight hours, but this was his first Airbus A320 assignment since qualifying to fly it.[19] There were 150 passengers and three flight attendants on board.[6][20]


Takeoff and bird strike

LaGuardia Runway 4 departure

LaGuardia Runway 4 departure

Flight path flown (red). Alternative trajectories to Teterboro (dark blue) and back toward La Guardia (magenta) were simulated for the investigation.

Flight path flown (red). Alternative trajectories to Teterboro (dark blue) and back toward La Guardia (magenta) were simulated for the investigation.

The flight was cleared for takeoff to the northeast from LaGuardia's Runway 4 at 3:24:56 pm Eastern Standard Time (20:24:56 UTC). With Skiles in control, the crew made its first report after becoming airborne at 3:25:51 as being at 700 feet (210 m) and climbing.[21]

The weather at 2:51 p.m. was 10 miles (16 km) visibility with broken clouds at 3,700 feet (1,100 m), wind 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph) from 290°; an hour later it was few clouds at 4,200 feet (1,300 m), wind 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph) from 310°.[7] [] At 3:26:37 Sullenberger remarked to Skiles: "What a view of the Hudson today."[22]

At 3:27:11 the plane struck a flock of Canada geese at an altitude of 2,818 feet (859 m) about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) north-northwest of LaGuardia. The pilots' view was filled with the large birds;[23] passengers and crew heard very loud bangs and saw flames from the engines, followed by silence and an odor of fuel.[24][25]

Realizing that both engines had shut down, Sullenberger took control while Skiles worked the checklist for engine restart.[4][27] The aircraft slowed but continued to climb for a further 19 seconds, reaching about 3,060 feet (930 m) at an airspeed of about 185 knots (343 km/h; 213 mph), then began a glide descent, accelerating to 210 knots (390 km/h; 240 mph) at 3:28:10 as it descended through 1,650 feet (500 m).

At 3:27:33, Sullenberger radioed a mayday call to New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON):[28][29] "... this is Cactus 1539 [sic – correct call sign was Cactus 1549], hit birds. We've lost thrust on both engines. We're turning back towards LaGuardia".[22] Air traffic controller Patrick Harten[30] told LaGuardia's tower to hold all departures, and directed Sullenberger back to Runway 13.[29] Sullenberger responded, "Unable".[29]

Sullenberger asked controllers for landing options in New Jersey, mentioning Teterboro Airport.[29][31][32] Permission was given for Teterboro's Runway 1,[32] but Sullenberger responded: "We can't do it  ... We're gonna be in the Hudson".[31] The aircraft passed less than 900 feet (270 m) above the George Washington Bridge.[33] Sullenberger commanded over the cabin address system, "Brace for impact",[33] and the flight attendants relayed the command to passengers.[34] Meanwhile, air traffic controllers asked the Coast Guard to caution vessels in the Hudson and ask them to prepare to assist with rescue.

Ditching and evacuation

Coast Guard video of the water landing, and rescue

Coast Guard video of the water landing, and rescue

Video beginning 20 minutes after ditching, with numerous ferries and rescue boats surrounding the aircraft

Video beginning 20 minutes after ditching, with numerous ferries and rescue boats surrounding the aircraft

About ninety seconds later, at 3:31 pm, the plane made an unpowered ditching, descending southwards at about 125 knots (140 mph; 230 km/h) into the middle of the North River section of the Hudson tidal estuary, at 40°46′10″N 74°00′17″W [190] [35] on the New York side of the state line, roughly opposite West 50th Street (near the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum) in Manhattan and Port Imperial in Weehawken, New Jersey. Flight attendants compared the ditching to a "hard landing" with "one impact, no bounce, then a gradual deceleration."[31] The ebb tide then began to take the plane southward.[36]

Sullenberger opened the cockpit door and gave the order to evacuate. The crew began evacuating the passengers through the four overwing window exits and into an inflatable slide/raft deployed from the front right passenger door (the front left slide failed to operate, so the manual inflation handle was pulled). A panicked passenger opened a rear door, which a flight attendant was unable to reseal.[37] Water was also entering through a hole in the fuselage and through cargo doors that had come open,[38] so as the water rose the attendant urged passengers to move forward by climbing over seats.[5] One passenger was in a wheelchair.[40] Finally, Sullenberger walked the cabin twice to confirm it was empty.[41][42]

The air and water temperatures were about 19 °F (−7 °C) and 41 °F (5 °C) respectively.[7] [] Some evacuees waited for rescue knee-deep in water on the partially submerged slides, some wearing life-vests. Others stood on the wings or, fearing an explosion, swam away from the plane.[37] One passenger, after helping with the evacuation, found the wing so crowded that he jumped into the river and swam to a boat.[31][43][44]


Sullenberger had ditched near boats, which facilitated rescue.[21][41] NY Waterway ferries Thomas Jefferson and then Governor Thomas H. Kean both arrived within minutes[45] and began taking people aboard using a Jason's cradle. Sullenberger advised the ferry crews to rescue those on the wings first, as they were in more jeopardy than those on the slides, which detached to become life rafts.[33] As the plane drifted, passengers on one slide, fearing that the boat would crush them, shouted for it to steer away.[46] The last person was taken from the plane at 3:55 pm.[47]

About 140 New York City firefighters responded to nearby docks,[48][49] as did police, helicopters, and various vessels and divers.[48] Other agencies provided medical help on the Weehawken side of the river, where most passengers were taken.[50]


The partially submerged aircraft tied up alongside Battery Park City

The partially submerged aircraft tied up alongside Battery Park City

There were five serious injuries,[27] including a deep laceration in flight attendant Doreen Welsh's leg.[31][51] Seventy-eight people were treated, mostly for minor injuries[52] and hypothermia;[53] twenty-four passengers and two rescuers were treated at hospitals,[54] with two passengers kept overnight. One passenger now wears glasses because of eye damage from jet fuel.[43] No pets were being carried on the flight.[55]

Each passenger later received a letter of apology, $5,000 in compensation for lost baggage (and $5,000 more if they could demonstrate larger losses) and refund of the ticket price.[56] In May 2009 they received any belongings that had been recovered. In addition, they reported offers of $10,000 each in return for agreeing not to sue US Airways.[57]

Many passengers and rescuers later experienced post-traumatic stress symptoms such as sleeplessness, flashbacks, and panic attacks; some began an email support group.[58] Patrick Harten, the controller who had worked the flight, said that "the hardest, most traumatic part of the entire event was when it was over", and that he was "gripped by raw moments of shock and grief".[59]

In an effort to prevent similar accidents, officials captured and gassed 1,235 Canada geese at 17 locations across New York City in mid-2009 and coated 1,739 goose eggs with oil to smother the developing goslings.[60]


The plane being recovered from the river during the night of January 17

The plane being recovered from the river during the night of January 17

Feather found in left engine

Feather found in left engine

N106US on display at Carolinas Aviation Museum

N106US on display at Carolinas Aviation Museum

The partially submerged plane was moored to a pier near the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan, roughly 4 miles (6 km) downstream from the ditching location.[34] The left engine, detached by the ditching, was recovered from the riverbed.[61] On January 17 the aircraft was barged[62] to New Jersey.[63]

The initial National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) evaluation that the plane had lost thrust after a bird strike[64] was confirmed by analysis of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders.[65]

Two days earlier the plane had experienced a less severe compressor stall,[66] but the affected engine was restarted. A faulty temperature sensor was replaced, and inspection verified the engine had not been damaged in that incident.[67]

On January 21, the NTSB found evidence of soft-body damage in the right engine along with organic debris including a feather.[68] The left engine also evidenced soft body impact, with: "dents on both the spinner and inlet lip of the engine cowling. Five booster inlet guide vanes are fractured and eight outlet guide vanes are missing." Both engines, missing large portions of their housings,[69] were sent to the manufacturer for examination.[70] On January 31, the plane was moved to Kearny, New Jersey. The bird remains[67][71] were later identified by DNA testing to be Canada geese, which typically weigh more than engines are designed to withstand ingesting.[67]

Because the plane was assembled in France, the European Aviation Safety Agency (the European counterpart of the FAA) and the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (the French counterpart of the NTSB) joined the investigation, with technical assistance from Airbus and GE Aviation/Snecma, respectively the manufacturers of the airframe and the engines.[72]

The NTSB used flight simulators to test the possibility that the flight could have returned safely to LaGuardia or diverted to Teterboro; only seven of the thirteen simulated returns to La Guardia succeeded, and only one of the two to Teterboro. Furthermore, the NTSB report called these simulations unrealistic: "The immediate turn made by the pilots during the simulations did not reflect or account for real-world considerations, such as the time delay required to recognize the bird strike and decide on a course of action." A further simulation, in which a 35-second delay was inserted to allow for those, crashed.[7] [] In testimony before the NTSB, Sullenberger maintained that there had been no time to bring the plane to any airport, and that attempting to do so would likely have killed those onboard and more on the ground.[73]

The Board ultimately ruled that Sullenberger had made the correct decision,[73] reasoning that the checklist for dual-engine failure is designed for higher altitudes, when pilots have more time to deal with the situation, and that while simulations showed that the plane might have just barely made it back to LaGuardia, those scenarios assumed an instant decision to do so, with no time allowed for assessing the situation.[74]

On May 4, 2010 the NTSB issued its final report, which identified the probable cause as "the ingestion of large birds into each engine, which resulted in an almost total loss of thrust in both engines."[7] [] The final report credited the outcome to four factors: good decision-making and teamwork by the cockpit crew (including decisions to immediately turn on the APU and to ditch in the Hudson); the fact that the A320 is certified for extended overwater operation (and hence carried life vests and additional raft/slides) even though not required for that route; the performance of the flight crew during the evacuation; and the proximity of working vessels to the ditching site. Contributing factors were good visibility and a fast response from the ferry operators and emergency responders. The report made 34 recommendations, including that engines be tested for resistance to bird strikes at low speeds; development of checklists for dual-engine failures at low altitude, and changes to checklist design in general "to minimize the risk of flight crewmembers becoming stuck in an inappropriate checklist or portion of a checklist"; improved pilot training for water landings; provision of life vests on all flights regardless of route, and changes to the locations of vests and other emergency equipment; research into improved wildlife management, and technical innovations on aircraft, to reduce bird strikes; research into possible changes in passenger brace positions; and research into "methods of overcoming passengers' inattention" during preflight safety briefings.[7] []

Author and pilot William Langewiesche asserted that insufficient credit was given to the A320's fly-by-wire design, by which the pilot uses a side-stick to make control inputs to the flight control computers. The computers then impose adjustments and limits of their own to keep the plane stable, which the pilot cannot override even in an emergency. This design allowed the pilots of Flight 1549 to concentrate on engine restart and deciding the course, without the burden of manually adjusting the glidepath to reduce the plane's rate of descent.[47] However, Sullenberger said that these computer-imposed limits also prevented him from achieving the optimum landing flare for the ditching, which would have softened the impact.[75]

In 2010, the damaged plane (excluding its engines)[76] was acquired for the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina,[77] which held a reception on June 11 to commemorate the arrival in Charlotte of the plane's body, with Sullenberger as keynote speaker and the passengers invited.[78]

Crew awards and honors

The reactions of all members of the crew, the split second decision making and the handling of this emergency and evacuation was "text book" and an example to us all. To have safely executed this emergency ditching and evacuation, with the loss of no lives, is a heroic and unique aviation achievement. —Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators citation

An NTSB board member called the ditching "the most successful  ... in aviation history. These people knew what they were supposed to do and they did it and as a result, no lives were lost."[79]

The crew, especially Sullenberger, was praised, notably by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York State Governor David Paterson, who said: "We had a Miracle on 34th Street. I believe now we have had a Miracle on the Hudson."[52][80] U.S. President George W. Bush said he was "inspired by the skill and heroism of the flight crew," and praised the emergency responders and volunteers.[81] President-elect Barack Obama said that everyone was proud of Sullenberger's "heroic and graceful job in landing the damaged aircraft." He thanked the crew, whom he invited to his inauguration five days later.[82]

The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators awarded the crew a Master's Medal on January 22, 2009; this is awarded only rarely, for outstanding aviation achievements at the discretion of the Master of the Guild.[12] New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented the crew with the Keys to the City, and Sullenberger with a replacement copy of a library book lost on the flight, Sidney Dekker's Just Culture: Balancing Safety and Accountability.[83] Rescuers received Certificates of Honor.[84]

The crew received a standing ovation at the Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009,[85] and Sullenberger threw out the first pitch at the 2009 Major League Baseball season for the San Francisco Giants. His Giants jersey was inscribed with the name "Sully" and the number 155 – the count of people aboard the plane.[86]

On July 28, passengers Dave Sanderson and Barry Leonard organized a thank you luncheon for emergency responders from Hudson County, New Jersey, on the shores of Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, New Jersey, where 57 passengers had been brought following their rescue. Present were members of the U.S. Coast Guard, North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, NY Waterway Ferries, the American Red Cross, Weehawken Volunteer First Aid, the Weehawken Police Department, West New York E.M.S., North Bergen E.M.S., the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management, the New Jersey E.M.S. Task Force, the Guttenberg Police Department, McCabe Ambulance, the Harrison Police Department, and doctors and nurses who treated survivors.[87]

Sullenberger was named Grand Marshal for the 2010 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.

In August 2010, Jeppesen issued an approach plate titled "Hudson Miracle APCH," dedicated to the five crew of Flight 1549 and annotated "Presented with Pride and Gratitude from your friends at Jeppesen."[88]

Sullenberger retired on March 3, 2010, after thirty years with US Airways and its predecessor, Pacific Southwest Airlines. At the end of his final flight he was reunited with Skiles and a number of the passengers from Flight 1549.[89]

In 2013, the entire crew was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.[90]

The accident was recorded by several closed-circuit television cameras. Various television reports and documentaries produced soon afterwards contained extensive video of the ditching and rescue, and recorded interviews with the aircrew, passengers, rescuers, and other key participants. These included:

  • On February 8, 2009, the CBS program 60 Minutes broadcast three segments that included interviews with the aircrew as well as their reunion with passengers. The program aired again on July 5, 2009. "Flight 1549: A Routine Takeoff Turns Ugly"[91] "Flight 1549: Saving 155 Souls in Minutes"[92] "Flight 1549: An Emotional Reunion"[93]

  • On February 19, 2009, Channel 4 in the United Kingdom aired a documentary titled The Miracle of the Hudson Plane Crash included personal accounts from passengers, rescuers, and witnesses.[46]

  • On February 21, 2009, KGO-TV in San Francisco broadcast an interview in the "Face to Face" series. Dan Ashley talked to Captain and Mrs. Sullenberger about their experiences during and since the accident.[94]

  • On March 4, 2009, the Discovery Channel broadcast a one-hour documentary titled Hudson Plane Crash – What Really Happened, with computer-generated imagery (CGI) animations of the flight, and interviews with passengers, crew, witnesses, rescuers, and aviation safety experts.[95]

  • On January 10, 2010, TLC aired a documentary titled Brace for Impact, aired again on April 14 in Australia as Brace for Impact: Inside the Hudson Plane Crash.[96]

  • In March 2011, Ric Elias, a front-row passenger shared his experience during a TED conference.[97]

  • Beginning in June 2011, the University of North Carolina School of Filmmaking and Process Pictures, LLC worked with the Carolinas Aviation Museum to produce a documentary, which also looked at the impact of the incident on society.[98]

The crash was featured in the Discovery Channel (Canada) / National Geographic TV series Mayday on the episode Hudson Splash Down.[99] It was also recreated in a National Geographic Channel TV special titled "Miracle Landing on the Hudson,"[100] and in the United Kingdom for a Channel 5 special in 2011.[101]

Garrison Keillor honored the entire flight crew by writing a song and performing it on his show, A Prairie Home Companion.[102]

The ditching is referenced in the song "A Real Hero" by College and Electric Youth, best known from the 2011 movie Drive. The lyrics of the second verse describe the water landing and the survival of the passengers and crew, as well as alluding to the freezing river.[103]

Sullenberger's memoir, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters was adapted into a feature film Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, directed by Clint Eastwood,[104] with Tom Hanks as Sullenberger and Aaron Eckhart as co-pilot Jeff Skiles.[105] It was released by Warner Bros. on September 9, 2016.[106] The film was criticized for deviations from both the official record and Sullenberger's memoir in its depiction of the NTSB as antagonistic; the Investigator-in-Charge Robert Benzon released a statement claiming that "Their treatment of the NTSB went very far beyond cinematic license into simple mean-spirited dishonesty. The movie may actually be detrimental to aviation safety. Pilots involved in accidents will now expect harsh, unfair treatment by investigators." [107]

See also

  • List of airline flights that required gliding

  • 1963 Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-124 Neva river ditching

  • Air Canada Flight 143 or Gimli Glider (1983)

  • Air Transat Flight 236 (2001)

  • Caspian Airlines Flight 7908 (2009)

  • Garuda Indonesia Flight 421 (2002)

  • Pan Am Flight 6 (1956)

  • Ryanair Flight 4102 (2008)

  • Scandinavian Airlines Flight 751 (1991)

  • TACA Flight 110 (1988)

  • Ural Airlines Flight 178 (2019)


Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgNational Transportation Safety Board (May 4, 2010), Loss of Thrust in Both Engines After Encountering a Flock of Birds and Subsequent Ditching on the Hudson River, US Airways Flight 1549, Airbus A320-214, N106US, Weehawken, New Jersey, January 15, 2009. Aircraft Accident Report NTSB/AAR-10/03 (PDF) :6 A serious injury is defined as any injury that (1) requires hospitalization for more than 48 hours, starting within seven days from the date that the injury was received; (2) results in a fracture of any bone, except simple fractures of fingers, toes, or the nose; (3) causes severe hemorrhages or nerve, muscle, or tendon damage; (4) involves any internal organ; or (5) involves second- or third-degree burns or any burns affecting more than 5 percent of the body surface. A minor injury is defined as any injury that does not qualify as a fatal or serious injury. "49 CFR 830.2". Code of Federal Regulations. October 1, 2011.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgAWE1549, also designated under a Star Alliance codeshare agreement as United Airlines Flight 1919 UA1919.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgDelivered in 1999, "N-Number Inquiry Results". Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved February 12, 2009. the plane, registered N106US, was one of 74 A320s then in service at US Airways. At the time of the accident its airframe had logged 16,299 flights totaling 25,241 flight hours; and the engines 19,182 and 26,466 hours. The last "A Check" (performed every 550 flight hours) was passed on December 6, 2008, and the last C Check (annual comprehensive inspection) on April 19, 2008. "Factbox – Downed US Airways plane had 16,000 take-offs". Thomson Reuters. January 18, 2009. Retrieved February 12, 2009. "US Airways Flight 1549 Update #7". US Airways. January 16, 2009. Retrieved June 11, 2009 – via Business Wire.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgThe engines are the primary source of electrical and hydraulic power for the aircraft flight control systems, Pasztor, Andy; Carey, Susan (January 20, 2009). "Backup System Helped Pilot Control Jet". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 12, 2009. but an auxiliary power unit (APU) can provide backup electrical power, and a ram air turbine (RAT) can be deployed into the airstream to provide backup hydraulic pressure and electrical power at certain speeds. Both the APU and RAT were operating as the plane descended onto the river.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgThe Airbus A320 has a control that closes valves and other openings in the fuselage, in order to slow flooding after a water landing, Ostrower, Jon (January 17, 2009). "The Airbus Ditching Button". Flight International. Reed Business Information. Retrieved February 12, 2009. but the pilots did not activate it. Neumeister, Larry; Caruso, David B.; Goldman, Adam; Long, Colleen (January 17, 2009). "NTSB: Pilot landed in Hudson to avoid catastrophe". Fox News. Associated Press. Retrieved August 1, 2013. It all happened so fast, the crew never threw the aircraft's "ditch switch," which seals off vents and holes in the fuselage to make it more seaworthy. Sullenberger later said this would have made little difference since the water impact tore substantial holes in the fuselage. Shiner, Linda (February 18, 2009). "Sully's Tale". Air & Space. Archived from the original on May 11, 2014. Retrieved February 23, 2009.
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Citation Linkwww.jsonline.com"Family of copilot from Hudson River plane crash speaks". WCBD-TV. Charleston, South Carolina. January 16, 2009. Archived from the original on July 22, 2012. Retrieved February 11, 2009. Forster, Stacy (January 16, 2009). "Co-pilot braved frigid waters to retrieve vests for passengers". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved February 11, 2009.
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