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Pilots, crew, passengers celebrate 2009 'Hudson miracle'Pilots, crew, passengers celebrate 2009 'Hudson miracle'

Damaged Airbus is Carolinas Aviation Museum centerpiece Damaged Airbus is Carolinas Aviation Museum centerpiece

Editor's note: This article was updated Jan. 17 with additional information.

On Jan. 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 passenger Vallie Collins was seated on the last row, in 26D, and survived the Hudson River ditching of a damaged Airbus A320 only to face another potentially life-threatening challenge.

  • US Airways Flight 1549 passenger Casey Jones reflects on the Jan. 15, 2009, flight when Captain Chesley Sullenberger III and First Officer Jeff Skiles landed an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River after dual engine flameouts. The damaged passenger jet is the Carolinas Aviation Museum centerpiece in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo by David Tulis.
  • An encounter with a flock of Canada geese flamed out both engines on US Airways Flight 1549 on Jan. 15, 2009, and resulted in the Miracle on the Hudson water ditching. The damaged airliner is the centerpiece of the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, near Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The US Airways Flight 1549 Airbus A320, the damaged airliner known for the Jan. 15, 2009, Miracle on the Hudson water ditching, is the centerpiece of the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, near Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The public can get up close to the US Airways Flight 1549 Airbus A320 at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The Carolinas Aviation Museum features memorabilia for US Airways Flight 1549, known as the Miracle on the Hudson. Photo by David Tulis.
  • First Officer Jeff Skiles, center, who in 2009 expertly glided a damaged Airbus A320 to safety on the Hudson River in New York with Captain Chesley Sullenberger III, greets passengers and family during a 10-year anniversary celebration Jan. 15 of the US Airways Flight 1549 ditching. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Passenger Jim Whitaker is the center of attention Jan. 15, 2019, in Charlotte, North Carolina, during a 10-year anniversary celebration of the Miracle on the Hudson after the passenger jet ditched into the Hudson River in 2009. Photo by David Tulis.
  • US Airways Flight 1549 Captain Chesley Sullenberger III poses for photos during a 10-year anniversary celebration in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Jan. 15 honoring the crew and passengers of the flight that became known as the Miracle on the Hudson. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Captain Chesley Sullenberger III arrives for a Charlotte, North Carolina, panel discussion during a 10-year anniversary celebration of the US Airways Flight 1549 event that became known as the Miracle on the Hudson. The original destination for the aircraft was Charlotte and the damaged aircraft is the Carolinas Aviation Museum centerpiece. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A 10-year anniversary celebration of the US Airways Flight 1549 event that became known as the Miracle on the Hudson reunited more than 80 passengers with crew members during luncheon in Charlotte, North Carolina, the original destination for the flight. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Captain Chesley Sullenberger III; First Officer Jeff Skiles; and cabin crewmembers Sheila Dail, Donna Dent, and Doreen Welsh participate in a Charlotte, North Carolina, panel discussion during a 10-year anniversary celebration of the Miracle on the Hudson. The original destination for the aircraft was Charlotte and the damaged aircraft is the Carolinas Aviation Museum centerpiece. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Captain Chesley Sullenberger III and First Officer Jeff Skiles participate in a Charlotte, North Carolina, panel discussion during a 10-year anniversary celebration of the US Airways Flight 1549 event that became known as the Miracle on the Hudson. Sullenberger and Skiles said pilot skills, good training, and cockpit resource management contributed to a successful outcome. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Captain Chesley Sullenberger III; First Officer Jeff Skiles; and cabin crewmembers Sheila Dail, Donna Dent, and Doreen Welsh participate in a Charlotte, North Carolina, panel discussion during a 10-year anniversary celebration of the US Airways Flight 1549 event that became known as the Miracle on the Hudson. Photo by David Tulis.
  • First Officer Jeff Skiles; Captain Chesley Sullenberger III; and cabin crewmembers Donna Dent, Doreen Welsh, and Sheila Dail participate in a Charlotte, North Carolina, 10-year anniversary celebration of the Miracle on the Hudson. The original destination for US Airways Flight 1549 was Charlotte and the damaged aircraft is the Carolinas Aviation Museum centerpiece. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Attendees scramble for pictures during a 10-year anniversary celebration of the Miracle on the Hudson, at a Charlotte, North Carolina luncheon Jan. 15. The damaged passenger jet is the Carolinas Aviation Museum centerpiece in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo by David Tulis.

A flood of 36-degree Fahrenheit water rushed past her neck, soaked her to the bone, and threatened to drown her as the aircraft began sinking.

During a 10-year anniversary celebration of the event that became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson,” the Maryville, Tennessee, resident had nothing but compliments for Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III and First Officer Jeff Skiles, who expertly glided the damaged Airbus A320-214, and the crew who helped all 155 passengers to safety.

“I tell people I survived two emergencies in a row that day,” she said, reflecting on the flight that left New York’s LaGuardia Airport at 3:26 p.m., bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. Collins motioned dozens of fellow travelers toward the wing exits as water rushed in through the rear of the crippled aircraft. Its tail cone-mounted auxiliary power unit was sheared off from the impact and left a gaping hole. “All I thought about at that moment was surviving,” she remembered. Passengers climbed out onto both wings and waved at arriving tugboats and ferries as Sullenberger, a former fighter pilot with more than 40 years flying experience, performed a final cabin sweep.

US Airways Flight 1549 passenger Vallie Collins and her daughter Addison reflect on the Jan. 15 flight during a 10-year anniversary celebration in Charlotte, North Carolina, honoring Captain Chesley Sullenberger III, First Officer Jeff Skiles, the crew, and the passengers, after a successful ditching on the Hudson River following dual engine flameouts from bird strikes. Photo by David Tulis.

After she was plucked from the wing and delivered to the ferry boat Yogi Berra, Collins, who was wearing a cashmere sweater and wool pants to ward off New York's winter chill, stripped off her drenched sweater to warm up. “I was already so cold, and I thought it was probably making me even colder. I figured if the male passenger across from me hadn’t yet seen a woman in a bra, then maybe it was time.” When the ship’s captain saw her predicament, “he literally took off his shirt and wrapped it around me because I was shaking so bad,” she continued. About a year later she tracked down the Yogi Berra’s captain and returned the loaned shirt.

“It shows the best of humanity,” said Collins while visiting the aircraft and artifacts contributed by fellow passengers and crew at the Carolinas Aviation Museum near Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, where the Airbus commands a striking centerpiece.

Skiles, a 737 captain, had just received his Airbus 320 type rating and was on his inaugural flight as the ship’s first officer. During a Jan. 15 panel discussion at a luncheon honoring the flight’s crew and passengers, Skiles said he was at the controls of the aircraft as it struck the flock of birds. “I’ve made Sully everything he is today,” he joked. Skiles said he valued “every bit of training” he had as a pilot, and further complimented the US Airways/American Airlines training regimen.

“This was a novel, unanticipated event for which we had never specifically trained,” said Sullenberger. “We had to take what we did know, adapt it, and apply it in a new way to solve a problem we had never seen before, and get it right the first time, in less than three-and-a-half minutes.” He said the emergency unfolded so quickly “we didn’t even have time to talk about it. I met Jeff [Skiles] on Monday, at the beginning of this trip, three days before [what would become] the challenge of a lifetime.” Sullenberger credited lifelong learning and team skills for the successful outcome. “I had to have a paradigm of how to solve any problem in an airplane and apply it to this situation to impose order on chaos.” He continued, “We’re standing on the shoulders of everybody else who has done this job before us—who has made this system so robust and resilient—who has the dedication to do whatever it takes to save every life.”

An encounter with a flock of Canada geese flamed out both engines on US Airways Flight 1549 on Jan. 15, 2009, and resulted in the Miracle on the Hudson water ditching. The damaged Airbus A320 piloted by Captain Chesley Sullenberger III and First Officer Jeff Skiles is the centerpiece of the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte. Photo by David Tulis.

The crippled airliner is shown warts and all, adding authenticity and providing visitors with a chilling reminder of the harrowing experience. There are hack marks on the fuselage left behind by rescue workers, jagged teeth of metal made by saws that separated the aircraft’s silver wings from its white-and-blue fuselage, shoe marks on the wing skins, and other bruises that would make many airplane owners cringe.

The jet was fished from the salt- and fresh-water-fed river and disassembled during the accident investigation. The aircraft, which stopped New York’s rush hour traffic in 2009, again stopped traffic when it was trucked to the museum on a flatbed in 2011. Museum President Stephen Saucier said displaying the "Hudson Miracle" aircraft as the main attraction helps young people focus on science, technology, engineering, and math and can lead to aviation careers. “We must attract these opportunities to inspire and motivate our children to get them ready for the future,” he told crew, passengers, family members, and business leaders during a tenth anniversary luncheon honoring those affiliated with Flight 1549. The museum, which also houses other general, commercial, and military aviation artifacts, has plans to move soon and is reaching out to the local community for options, Saucier noted.

Passengers greeted each other as they silently viewed the aircraft with friends or loved ones. Casey Jones of Jacksonville, Florida, was in seat 7A ahead of the wing and near the left engine when disaster struck. “It amazes me, seeing the plane, seeing the engine, and the damage it sustained. It’s really amazing to me that I’m here talking to you today.”

Passengers and family members greet during a 10-year anniversary celebration of US Airways Flight 1549 when Captain Chesley Sullenberger III and First Officer Jeff Skiles expertly glided a damaged Airbus A320 to safety on the Hudson River in New York on Jan. 15, 2009. Photo by David Tulis.

He said that immediately after takeoff, “I felt a big jab, like a huge bump, and then smelled an odor like electrical wiring and burnt flesh. We were gliding down, and we didn’t have much altitude at that point. We turned left and I could see the airport beyond the wing. I thought we were headed back over there but the captain turned left again, pointed us down the river and made the announcement to brace for impact. My wife and eight-year-old son were on another airplane [from New York] and all I could think was that I wanted to tell them I loved them, but there wasn’t much time. My fingers were shaking so badly that I couldn’t punch the code to unlock the phone” before the airplane hit the water.

After the crash he scrambled to the left wing “in water up to my knees and waited for 17 minutes,” he recalled. “I know it was exactly that long because of the telephone calls I was getting and the messages that kept popping up.” The river swallowed the aircraft about seven minutes later.

An NTSB executive summary of the accident noted the probable cause as “the ingestion of large birds into each engine, which resulted in an almost total loss of thrust in both engines" after the airliner encountered a flock of Canada geese immediately after takeoff.

Passengers and family members participate in a 10-year anniversary celebration of the US Airways Flight 1549 event that became known as the Miracle on the Hudson, during a luncheon in Charlotte. Photo by David Tulis.

The flight was intended for Charlotte Douglas International Airport and ended in less than two minutes. Passengers were evacuated within about 17 minutes, the report confirmed. The report also credited Sullenberger and Skiles with life-saving “decision-making” and complimented them for optimizing “crew resource management during the accident sequence." The summary noted the aircraft was outfitted with overwater survivor apparatus that and the “fortuitous use” of the forward slide and rafts contributed to the safe outcome, as did outstanding performances from the flight’s cabin crewmembers. River boats gearing up for the evening rush hour, their proximity, and “immediate and appropriate response” of first responders helped avoid a catastrophe.

One flight attendant and four passengers were injured during the ditching and evacuation.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Aviation Industry

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