US Airways Jet Crashes Into Hudson River

January 15, 2009, 3:48 pm
By Ken Belson

plane crash still frame from a video report by WNBC-TV shows a US Airways airplane in the Hudson River. (AP Photo/WNBC-TV)

Updated, 4:44 p.m. | A US Airways plane that took off Thursday at 3:26 p.m. from La Guardia Airport landed in the Hudson River five minutes later, where it remains mostly submerged. Ferries and other boats converged to help with a rescue effort, as the plane drifted south in the water. Initial reports from police and people at the scene suggest that everyone on the plane appeared to have escaped.

The plane, US Airways flight 1549, took off from LaGuardia Airport at 3:26 p.m. was bound for Charlotte, N.C. and had 148 passengers and 5 crew members. The plane may have hit a flock of birds, according to a Federal Aviation Administration. report, and then descended. The pilot tried to return to the airport when the plane fell into the Hudson.

Several commuter ferries as well as the Coast Guard Cutter Ridley arrived quickly to help rescue passengers on the plane, an Airbus A320. New York Police Department divers dove into the water to assist with the rescue as plane floated southbound on the river, possibly due to the tidal direction.

“There have been scores of survivors,” said one police official. The people appeared to be, “cold but not injured. Some were taken to the Jersey side too. They had blankets. They appeared to be uninjured.”

Shortly before 4 p.m., a New York Waterways ferry pulled into Pier 79 at 39th Street and 12th Avenue and, led by a man wrapped only in a blanket, about 15 passengers from the airplane were escorted into the ferry terminal. No one was carrying any belongings.

“They look amazingly calm, but I bet their hearts are racing,” said Bob Grindrod, of Syracuse, who was waiting to board a ferry for New Jersey.

The divers were dropped into the water from helicopters overhead, police officials said. Some passengers were able to free themselves from the plane. They could be seen on the exterior in televised reports.

One passenger interviewed on WNBC said that the pilot told everyone on board to brace for a hard landing. Passengers started saying prayers before the plane hit the water. The passenger, who said he saw the left engine blow out, added that it was “kind of orderly” getting off the plane.

Some passengers being plucked from the frigid water were being taken to the Circle Line piers nearby at West 42nd Street. It was less than 20 degrees Farenheit in New York City at the time. Fire and police rescue crews were rushing to the water.

One witness interviewed by WNBC said he saw the plane descending steadily without its landing gear down.

The plane was almost totally submerged at 4:22 p.m., as sunlight of the day ran out. The plane is just across from the Old Marine terminal at Pier 57. All of it was submerged except for the cockpit at that point, at 4:22 p.m. and is midway between New York and New Jersey.

An official in a boat at the scene, said, “It just looks like the very front of the aircraft. The nose; the cockpit, and the left wing. A portion of the left wing. It is just the nose and the cockpit bobbing out of the water, and the rest of it is submerged under the river. The left wing is also visible.”

“As far as we believe there is no one on board,” the official said.

Fulmer Duckworth, 41, who does computer graphics for the Bank of America, was meeting with his boss on the 29th floor of the building at West 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue when he saw the plane hit the water. “It made this huge, gigantic splash, and I actually thought it was a boat crash at first,” he said. “It didn’t occur to me that it was a plane in the water.”

He saw it spin counterclockwise in the water, and going with the current. When it landed, it was heading south, down the Hudson, but before it floated out of his sight it was facing east, he said.

After a co-worker found a pair of binoculars, he looked out the window and saw people standing on both of the plane’s wings, and a flotation device, a round boat, attached to the plane.

He estimated 70 or 80 people were on the wings. “Actually it looked like everybody was really calm, like on the subway platform when it’s really, really crowded, and everyone’s standing shoulder to shoulder. Everyone was standing right up against each other on the wings.”

He said the plane floated for two or three minutes before it started to sink.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has set up a family center at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near LaGuardia Airport. Air traffic officials said they have resumed flights in and out of LaGuardia.

The last fatal crash of a scheduled airliner flight in this country was in Lexington, Ky., on Aug. 27, 2006, nearly 30 months ago.

MSNBC has live video of the scene.

We would like to hear from witnesses who saw the plane go down. Call our Metro Desk editorial assistants at (212) 556-1533. Anyone with images of the crash and rescue is asked to e-mail them to cityroom.nyt@gmail.com.

Al Baker, Jim Dwyer, Tina Kelley and Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

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