'Miracle on the Hudson': Plane Lands in NYC River

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The "Miracle on the Hudson" was the result of an in-air collision between a flock of geese and an airplane.

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from New York's La Guardia Airport, en route to Seattle, with a stop in Charlotte, N.C. Onboard were 155 people.

The plane took off about 3:25 p.m. Eastern Time. Winds were light, and visibility was good. Just a couple of minutes after takeoff, at a height of 2,818 feet, the plane hit a flock of Canada geese and lost all engine power. Passengers reported hearing very loud bangs and then the smell of fuel.

The pilots, Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skills, radioed a Mayday call at 3:27 p.m. to air traffic control. They needed to land the plane but were unable to reach an airport. They chose to land in the Hudson River, just by Midtown Manhattan, near the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

Hudson River landing passengers on wing

The pilots calmly worked through their landing checklists, telling air traffic controllers to have the Coast Guard meet the plane in the Hudson. At 3:31 p.m., the plane hit with the water with what the pilots warned would be "a hard bounce."

Hudson River landing in water

The landing did not cause any undue stress to the plane. All 155 people onboard, including one person who was in a wheelchair, made it to safety. Sullengerber, as the senior officer, was the last one off the plane, after walking through the cabin to make sure that no one was left behind. Rescue ferries transported people from the wings and the onboard slides to safety and to police, fire, and medical crews standing by onshore. The last person left the plane at 3:55 p.m., as the plane was sinking a bit.

It was a cold day, in and out of the water. The air temperature was 19 degrees Fahrenheit; the water temperature was 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Five people reported serious injuries. In all, 78 people were treated by medical staff, for mostly hypothermia and minor injuries.

Hudson River landing plane crew

During subsequent investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that air traffic controllers could not have guaranteed that the plane would have made it back to any nearby airport, given the extent of the damage and the relatively low level of altitude gained, and that the Hudson River landing, though unconventional and improbable, was probably the pilots' best course of action under the circumstances.

The crew received many honors, including the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators' Master's Medal. The story of the flight and the landing was the subject of several television programs and one high-profile movie, a 2016 production directed by Clint Eastwood and starring as the pilots Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart.

The event came to be called the "Miracle on the Hudson," after then-Gov. David Paterson said this: "We had a Miracle on 34th Street [a Christmas movie set in New York]. I believe now we have had a Miracle on the Hudson."

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Social Studies for Kids
copyright 2002–2018
David White

Social Studies for Kids
copyright 2002–2019
David White