By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 9, 2009 10:44 AM
Seconds before hitting the Hudson River, US Airways captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III asked the copilot, "Got any ideas?"
The co-pilot responded, "Actually, no."
Sullenberger described the scene inside the cockpit as the initial witness in a two-day public hearing by the National Transportation Safety Board into the Jan. 15 ditching of the Airbus A320.
Sullenberger repeatedly pointed to past experience and training in his decision-making process after the plane struck a flock of geese, causing the loss of power in both engines. Sullenberger learned to fly at age 16, was an Air Force fighter pilot and is a 29-year veteran of US Airways.
Sullenberger's skill is credited with gliding the plane smoothly to the forced water landing and avoiding any fatalities. The plane carried five crew members and 150 passengers. The accident caused five injuries.
Transcripts and audio segments played today by the NTSB 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 controllers' questions, telling them the plane won't make it.
Sullenberger said he determined quickly that returning to an airport would prove "problematic" because the plane was already at a low airspeed of 2,700 feet and quickly losing power.
The NTSB hearing comes at a time when federal officials are rushing to reassure the traveling public that the government is working to improve commercial airline safety. The hearings following two major air disasters: last week's disappearance of Air France Flight 447, which carried 228 people, and the February crash of a twin-engine turboprop outside of Buffalo, resulting in the deaths of 50.