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US Flight 1549 Ditches In Hudson River

On January 15, 2009, the flight was cleared for takeoff from Runway 4 at LaGuardia at 3:24:56 p.m. to Charlotte/Douglas, North Carolina, with direct onward service to Seattle-Tacoma in Washington. The crew made their first report after becoming airborne at 3:25:51 as being at 700 feet and climbing. There were 150 passengers and five crew members, including the captain, first officer, and three flight attendants, on board. The captain was Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, 57, a former fighter pilot who had been an airline pilot since leaving the Air Force in 1980. He is also a safety expert and a glider pilot. The first officer was Jeffrey B. Skiles, 49, who was on his first flight in the Airbus A320 since passing the training course to fly the type. The flight attendants were Donna Dent, Doreen Welsh, and Sheila Dail.

First Officer Skiles was at the controls of the flight when it took off to the northeast from Runway 4 at 3:25 p.m., and was the first to notice a formation of birds approaching the aircraft about two minutes later. The aircraft collided with the birds at 3:27. The windscreen quickly turned dark brown and several loud thuds were heard. Immediately afterward, both engines lost power. Sullenberger took the controls, while Skiles attempted to restart the engines and began going through a three-page emergency landing checklist.

At 3:27:36, using the call sign "Cactus 1539", the flight radioed air traffic controllers at New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) "Hit birds. We lost thrust in both engines. Returning back towards LaGuardia." Passengers and cabin crew later reported hearing "very loud bangs" in both engines and seeing flaming exhaust, then silence from the engines and the odor of unburned fuel in the cabin. Responding to the captain's report of a bird strike, controller Patrick Harten gave Sullenberger a heading to return to LaGuardia and told him that he could land to the southeast on Runway 13. Sullenberger responded that he was unable. Unofficial radar returns show that the flight reached at most 3,200 feet before beginning its descent.

Sullenberger asked if they could attempt an emergency landing in New Jersey, mentioning Teterboro Airport as a possibility; air traffic controllers quickly contacted Teterboro and gained permission for a landing on runway 1. However, Sullenberger told controllers that "We can't do it", and that "We're gonna be in the Hudson," making clear his intention to bring the plane down on the Hudson River due to a lack of altitude. Air traffic control at LaGuardia reported seeing the aircraft pass less than 900 feet above the George Washington Bridge. About 90 seconds before touchdown, the captain announced, "Brace for impact," and the flight attendants instructed the passengers how to do so. 

The plane ended its six-minute flight at 3:31 pm with an unpowered ditching while heading south at about 150 miles per hour in the middle of the North River section of the Hudson River roughly abeam 50th Street (near the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum) in Manhattan and Port Imperial in Weehawken, New Jersey. Sullenberger said in an interview on CBS television that his training prompted him to choose a ditching location near operating boats so as to maximize the chance of rescue. The location was near three boat terminals: two used by ferry operator NY Waterway on either side of the Hudson River and a third used by tour boat operator Circle Line.  After coming to a stop in the river, the plane began drifting southward with the current. 

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Board Member Kitty Higgins, the principal spokesperson for the on-scene investigation, said at a press conference the day after the accident that it "has to go down [as] the most successful ditching in aviation history." "These people knew what they were supposed to do and they did it and as a result, nobody lost their life."