NEWSCLIP-2009-01-15: USAirways Flight #1549, birdstrike and successful ditching in the Hudson River

At 3:25 pm local time on January 15, 2009, USAirways Flight #1549 departed LaGuardia Airport’s Runway 04 and turned out to the northwest, heading for Charlotte, NC (the planned flight route is approximated by the blue line). Two minutes later, at 3:27:14,  multiple birdstrikes occurred while passing through a flock of geese at an altitude of 2,800 feet. Both engines lost power, forcing an emergency action by the pilots. The First Officer had been flying, but the Captain quickly took control. At 3:27:28 he directed the First Officer to pull out the ‘Quick Reference Handbook’ for engine restarts after loss of power. A return to LaGuardia (see pink line) was considered, as was the possibility of an emergency landing at Teterboro’s Runway 01 (see green line).

The actual flight path is depicted in yellow. Blue line shows the planned route to Charlotte. Pink line shows an approximate route for an emergency landing at LaGuardia. Green line shows an approximate route for an emergency landing at Teterboro.

Less than two minutes after the birdstrike, the Captain made a critical decision: he had to ditch on the Hudson River. He announced to the cabin to ‘brace for impact’. Seconds later, at 15:29:15, the aircraft GPWS alerted that they were descending through 1,000 feet altitude. Upon impact at 15:30:44, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) ceased to function. The ditch location was sufficiently shallow that when passengers exited, they were able to stand on the wings, waiting for their rescue. All survived.

The entire sequence, from birdstrike to touchdown on the Hudson River, took just three and a half minutes. Weather was not a factor, although the air temperature of -6°C could have been lethal without quick rescues. Had this incident occurred at night, with low visibility, or with less benign January conditions, the outcome easily could have been a total loss, including additional ground casualties. This outcome was due in large part to luck, as well as to the skill and professionalism of a very seasoned flight crew: Captain (age 57), First Officer (age 49), and the three cabin crew (ages 51, 57 and 58).

Here is a link to the NTSB Report, and a Youtube video showing a simulation: