Investigators work out logistics of removing jet


Published: Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 3:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 3:44 p.m.

NEW YORK -- The US Airways jet that survived a crash-landing in the Hudson River lay in a thickening flow of ice Saturday as the bitter cold complicated efforts to retrieve a jet that now appears to be more intact than previously thought.

Federal investigators said the aircraft's right engine, which they initially believed had come off and drifted away, is still attached to the plane.

A National Transportation Safety Board 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. (2029 GMT) 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 Saturday as they contemplated how to best hoist the jet from the water without damaging it. Big patches of ice had formed around the plane Saturday morning as the temperature fell to 6 degrees (minus 14 Celsius).

National Safety Transportation Board member Kitty Higgins said the agency and salvage company officials were still trying to work out the logistics of how to lift the 80-ton plane onto a barge. The partially submerged plane is tethered to a sea wall in lower Manhattan.

Investigators began interviewing the pilot, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, and his co-pilot for the first time Saturday, said NTSB spokeswoman Bridget Serchak. Sullenberger glided the crippled aircraft into the river on Thursday afternoon when he couldn't make a nearby airport, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.

Crews will use a crane to raise the plane a few feet (meters) at a time to let the water drain out, possibly with the help of bilge pumps. Load cells 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 a location in 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. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers vessels and city police department boats were to resume 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 feet to 50 feet (9 meters to 15 meters) 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 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 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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