FAA Releases Audio From Hudson River Plane Crash

Audio
This audio is an edited compilation of the U.S. Airways Flight 1549 air traffic control communications from Jan. 15, when the plane crash-landed in the Hudson River after hitting birds following takeoff.Audio: FAAPhoto: ReutersRelated Story

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By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 5, 2009; 12:19 PM

"We're gonna be in the Hudson."

That was the final communication from pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III before he crash-landed a US Airways jetliner into freezing waters off of Manhattan on Jan. 15.

Transcripts and audio segments released today by the Federal Aviation Administration show controllers trying to divert the US Airways plane back to an open runway at La Guardia Airport, from which it had just departed, or a nearby airport. Sullenberger is heard calmly firing back answers to controller's questions, telling them the plane won't make it.

"We can't do it," he says.

"Sorry, say again, Cactus," the controller says, in a coded reference to the airplane.

"We're gonna be in the Hudson," he responds.

Then communication with the plane was lost.

The National Transportation Safety Board has said that Sullenberger told investigators that the plane struck a flock of birds, causing the engines to lose power, just moments after taking off from La Guardia. All 155 passengers and crew members were rescued after the crash landing by boats on the river.

Recovered black box recorders, engine damage and other evidence gathered by investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board so far have pointed to a bird strike as the cause of the accident. The plane itself has been moved from a barge where it had been docked in Jersey City to a guarded salvage yard elsewhere in New Jersey.

But the incident, dubbed almost immediately after it happened the "Miracle on the Hudson," has yet to emerge from the media spotlight. The five-member crew is about to embark on New York City media blitz. Sullenberger, the flight's co-pilot and three flight attendants will give their first full account of the landing ordeal on Sunday's "60 Minutes."

On Monday morning, they will appear on two network morning shows, and interviews with other network shows are still being negotiated.

The morning barrage will be followed by a midday news conference in New York where the crew will be given keys to the city. There might be another news conference around then that's being organized by the flight attendants union and US Airways' pilots union. Larry King will host the crew on his CNN show Monday night. They will wake up and do another cable morning show Tuesday. And they are expected to appear on a network evening show.

The plane's crew included co-pilot Jeff Skiles and flight attendants Doreen Walsh, Sheila Dail and Donna Dent. The crew has been quiet about the flight, which was on its way from La Guardia to Charlotte. Their priority has been working with investigators from the NTSB. But all along, behind the scenes, their representatives have been organizing the careful cascade of TV appearances.

Only ESPN has managed to sneak through. In a brief chat before Sunday's Super Bowl, Sullenberger described the forced landing as "shocking." He said: "It was very quiet as we worked, my co-pilot and I. We were a team. But to have zero thrust coming out of those engines was shocking -- the silence."

Sullenberger's superstar hero status continues to grow. Passengers have reported that Sullenberger checked the sinking cabin repeatedly for passengers who might have been left behind. In the past few days, California librarians have come forward to share that Sullenberger contacted library officials asking that overdue fees be waived on a book he had borrowed that still sits in the plane's cargo hold.

Sullenberger isn't the only hero to come out of the crash of Flight 1549. From the morning after the landing, scores of survivors have been interviewed, some within a few hours of being pulled from wings of the sinking plane. Ferry boat operators, dock workers, emergency medical personnel, New York firefighters, police officers and police scuba divers have gotten hero treatment in news accounts and from city officials.

The NTSB has said its investigation is expected to last 12 to 18 months.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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