15 Years Ago Today: “Miracle On The Hudson” As Plane Safely Lands In River [COCKPIT AUDIO]

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549, commanded by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, made a remarkable emergency landing in the Hudson River, a feat that has since been dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson.” The Airbus A320, which had been in service since 1999, was en route from LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina.

Both Sullenberger, a former military pilot with nearly 20,000 flying hours (including 4,756 on the A320), and Skiles, who had over 20,000 flying hours, encountered an unprecedented crisis shortly after the 3:26 p.m. takeoff. Approximately 4.5 miles from the airport and at an altitude of just under 3,000 feet, the aircraft collided with a flock of Canadian geese. The birds severely compromised both engines.

Displaying remarkable composure and expertise, Sullenberger took control of the aircraft from Skiles, who had piloted the plane during takeoff. Ten seconds after the bird strike, while the plane glided downward, Sullenberger activated the auxiliary power unit (APU), which powers an electric generator and provides air pressure. Despite failed attempts to restart the main engines, Sullenberger made a critical mayday call only 22 seconds post-collision, saying, “This is Cactus 1549, hit birds. We’ve lost thrust on both engines. We’re turning back toward LaGuardia.”

Air Traffic Control initially suggested an emergency landing at LaGuardia, then at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport. However, Sullenberger, realizing the impossibility of reaching either airport, opted for the Hudson River. His communication with the control tower was calm and decisive. “We may end up in the Hudson,” he announced shortly before executing the water landing.

The aircraft, flying just 900 feet above the George Washington Bridge, successfully ditched in the Hudson River at 3:31 p.m., five minutes after takeoff. The 155 passengers aboard were quickly evacuated onto the wings and emergency slides, with life vests and slides that doubled as rafts. A swift and coordinated rescue effort by New York Waterway ferries, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the FDNY ensured that all passengers and crew were safely removed from the water and the aircraft by 3:55 p.m., just 24 minutes after the landing.

Hailed as the “most successful marine rescue in aviation history” by New York Waterway, the quick response of ferry crews was crucial in preventing deaths or hypothermia. Sullenberger’s skillful handling of the situation earned him widespread acclaim, including a ranking as the second “Top 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons of 2009” by Time magazine, following Michelle Obama.

Captain Sullenberger retired from US Airways on March 3, 2010, after a distinguished 30-year career as a commercial pilot.

 

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