Jet in River Landing Lost Power in Both Engines at 3,200 Feet
Monday, January 19, 2009
NEW YORK, Jan. 18 -- A jetliner that crash-landed Thursday in the Hudson River lost power simultaneously in both engines after reaching an altitude of only 3,200 feet, the plane's black-box recorders revealed Sunday.
Data from the recorders confirmed the harrowing circumstances under which the pilot of the US Airways flight, carrying 155 people, maneuvered the plane safely into the water after striking a flock of birds after takeoff Thursday.
Meanwhile, the search for the plane's missing left engine was suspended until Tuesday because ice floes in the river made it too dangerous to put divers or special sonar equipment in the water, National Transportation Safety Board member Kitty Higgins said.
The hulking wreckage of the plane was towed Sunday to a marina in Jersey City, where it will be examined closely. Officials hoped to finish defueling and move the plane to a New Jersey marina later Sunday.
Investigators have already seen significant damage to the tail and to compartments at the bottom of the plane that opened upon impact, Higgins said.
She praised the flight crew, led by US Airways Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, who spoke to NTSB investigators Saturday.
"Miracles happen because a lot of everyday things happen for years and years and years," Higgins said. "These people knew what they were supposed to do and they did it, and as a result, nobody lost their life."
While bird strikes are common in aviation, commercial jet engines are fortified against them. They seldom disable an engine, let alone two. Archie Dickey, who teaches aviation environmental science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, says bird strikes that cripple both engines are "extremely rare."
Sullenberger leveled the plane after the bird strike to keep it from stalling and thought about where to land. Meanwhile, his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, kept trying to restart the engines and began working through a three-page list of procedures for an emergency landing. Normally, those procedures begin at 35,000 feet. This time, the plane was at 3,000 feet.
Events happened so fast, the pilots never had time to throw the aircraft's "ditch switch," which seals off vents and holes in the fuselage to make it more seaworthy.
Sullenberger pulled off the landing in textbook fashion, although experts say many factors, including communication among the pilots and flight attendants, were as important as sheer skill.
"The raw piloting is commendable, but what's truly extraordinary is the rapid and professional way the crew went about making these decisions. You've only got seconds in order to sort these things out -- it's not like you have time to go through denial," said William R. Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation and a former official with the Federal Aviation Administration.