New details unveiled about downed US Airways flight


Published: Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 5:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 5:59 p.m.

NEW YORK -- Investigators provided a dramatic detailed account Saturday of the ill-fated US Airways flight that crash-landed in the Hudson River, with the pilot telling controllers just moments after takeoff, "We're gonna be in the Hudson."

"We hit birds. We lost thrust in both engines," the pilot said. We're turning back toward LaGuardia."

Less than a minute later, the pilot told the tower that he was unable to turn around and that they were going to end up in the river.

The account was provided by National Transportation Safety Board member Kitty Higgins, who gave a minute-by-minute timeline of the flight. Investigators also interviewed the pilots, but the details of the discussion was not immediately clear.

All 155 people aboard survived the accident and were quickly rescued by ferries and emergency crews.

The gripping account came as crews attempted to remove the plane from the icy river as it sank deeper into the water. The jet lay almost entirely submerged Saturday next to a sea wall in lower Manhattan as workers positioned a crane to haul it on to a waiting barge.

Only the tip of its tail was above water. Earlier in the morning, some of its fuselage and part of a wing were also visible. Divers also went into the frigid waters and were sprayed down with hot water during breaks on the shore.

Investigators still planned to attempt to pull the jetliner from the river Saturday night.

The plane is more intact than previously thought, however. Federal investigators said the aircraft's right engine, which they initially believed had come off and drifted away, is still attached to the plane.

An NTSB spokesman said the water was so murky even before ice began to form that authorities couldn't see the engine still on the plane.

"We're now looking for one engine, not two," NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said.

The investigation played out as authorities released the first video showing the spectacular crash landing. Security cameras on a Manhattan pier captured the Airbus A320 as it descended in a controlled glide, then threw up a spray as it slid across the river on its belly.

The video also illustrated the swift current that pulled the plane down the river as passengers walked out onto the wings and ferry boats moved in for the rescue.

Authorities also released a frantic 911 call that captured the drama of the flight. A man from the Bronx called 911 at 3:29 p.m. Thursday, three minutes after the plane took off.

"Oh my God! It was a big plane. I heard a big boom just now. We looked up, and the plane came straight over us, and it was turning. Oh my God!" the caller said.

Investigators encountered treacherous conditions as they contemplated how best to hoist the jet from the water without damaging it. Big patches of ice had formed around the plane Saturday morning, when the temperature fell to 6 degrees.

Investigators began interviewing the pilot, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, and his co-pilot for the first time Saturday, said NTSB spokeswoman Bridget Serchak.

Sullenberger was seen entering a conference room of a lower Manhattan hotel, surrounded by federal investigators. The silver-haired pilot was wearing a white shirt and slacks and seemed composed.

When a reporter approached him for comment, one of the officials responded: "No chance."

Crews will use a crane to raise the plane a few feet at a time to let the water drain out, possibly with the help of bilge pumps. Devices will be attached to each wing to measure the plane's weight as it comes out of the water.

After the plane is up, it will be taken to New Jersey for examination.

The delicate task of removing the aircraft was not the only work playing out on the Hudson River. Divers and sonar operators hunted for the missing engine in the cold, dark and murky river.

The engine was lost when Flight 1549 splashed down after colliding with birds. Exactly where, though, was a mystery. Army Corps of Engineers vessels and city police department boats resumed the search Saturday.

Authorities want to inspect the engines to figure out how exactly the birds caused the plane to fail so badly and so fast. They may also look for feathers in the engines to determine the bird species, helping prevent future mishaps.

The lost engine could be 30 to 50 feet down, obscured in thick sediment. Conditions are so murky that police and fire department divers will have to feel about by hand.

"There is hardly anything to see because of the sediment," said Thomas M. Creamer, chief of the operations division of the New York District of the Army Corps, one of the groups brought in to help with the search.

Under the direction of the police department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used sonar to look for the engine. That technology can produce a picture of the river bottom, but its range is limited.

"It is going to take time," Creamer said. "It is a large area. Things move around quickly."

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