The pilot of the US Airways jet that crashed off New York today has been hailed as a hero after all 155 passengers and crew were reported to have cheated death.
The pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger , was praised by survivors and officials for coolly landing the jet belly-first onto the Hudson River, allowing passengers to make a successful evacuation from the stricken craft.
“He is the consummate pilot,” said Lorrie Sullenberger of her husband, who is an US Air Force Academy grad who flew F-4 fight planes while in the Air Force.
“He is about performing that airplane to the exact precision to which it is made,” she told the New York Post.
“It would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river, and then making sure that everybody got out,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
“I had a long conversation with the pilot. He walked the plane twice after everybody else was off.”
Sullenberger tried to verify that there was nobody else onboard.
“The first and most important thing is, this pilot did a wonderful job, and it would appear that all roughly 155, including crew and one infant, got out safely,” Mr Bloomberg said.
Passengers also praised the pilot’s actions when the Airbus A320 was forced to make a watery crash-landing after taking off from New York for North Carolina.
“All of a sudden the captain came on and he told us to brace ourselves and probably brace ourselves pretty hard,” Jeff Kolodjay told CNN.
“But he did an amazing job – kudos to him on that landing.”
Another passenger, Fred Beretta, told the network: “I’ve flown in a lot of planes and that was a phenomenal landing.”
Asked if he had a message for the pilot and co-pilot, Mr Beretta said: “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope somebody gives you a great big award for your performance.”
Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, added: “It was an amazing piece of airmanship.”
US Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said the US Airways Flight 1549 with 155 people on board had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport enroute to Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday when the crash occurred in the river near 48th Street in New York City.
Brown said the plane, an Airbus 320, may have been hit by a flock of birds.
Passengers stood on the wings as the wreck sank into the river’s frigid waters.
Early reports suggest all 155 passengers and crew survived.
“I’m pretty sure everybody got off,” survior Alberto Pedero told CNN.
“At first there was panic, there were a couple of people who took charge and started yelling to calm down,” he said.
“It felt just like a car crash. There was the impact then it as just get out, get out now.”
Alberto said the pilot announced to passengers over the PA “prepare for impact”.
Passengers sobbed and screamed then it fell silent.
“For the most part it got really quiet. I said to myself OK, I guess this is it, just do it. Once it hit I realised it was ok and I thought get out before it starts sinking.”
A s the US Airways plane hit the frigid waters of the Hudson River, emergency crews were already headed to the scene. And the swift, dramatic response had an amazing result: All the 155 people aboard were pulled to safety.
Commuter ferries also sprang into action from New York and New Jersey, and their crews encountered freezing, panicked passengers _ some of whom let out cheers when the boats arrived.
“We had to pull an elderly woman out of a raft in a sling. She was crying. … People were panicking. They said, ’Hurry up, hurry up,’” said Vincent Lombardi, captain of the first boat to get to the plane, the Thomas Jefferson. “We gave them the jackets off our backs.”
The fire department in New York got the first emergency call at 3:31 p.m. and was on the scene in less than five minutes. NY Waterway ferries shuttling passengers to and from New Jersey deployed within moments.
In total, 14 vessels responded to the scene, with crews trained to respond to people overboard.
Across the river, Weehawken, N.J., police, firefighters and emergency medical crews boarded ferries awaiting rush hour and headed to the plane, minutes after the pilot heroically guided the jet into the water after the engine failed.
The ferries pulled up slowly to avoid washing passengers off the plane with the wake. Some passengers were already standing on the wing as Lombardi came alongside the sinking plane, which was moving swiftly down the river. Other passengers were in inflatable rafts.
Lombardi’s crew rescued 56 passengers.
Brittany Catanzaro, captain of the Thomas Kean, pulled 24 people aboard with her crew.
Meanwhile, detectives John McKenna and James Coll _ members of an elite emergency police team _ commandeered a sightseeing ferry at 42nd Street and headed to scene.
As the vessel arrived at the sinking fuselage, Sgt. Michael McGuinness and Detective Sean Mulcahy tied ropes around themselves that were also tied to their colleagues. They stayed on board as McKenna and Coll entered the plane to rescue four other passengers still inside.
Firefighters responded by boat and collected other passengers. They also anchored the plane with ropes to keep it from sinking or drifting away with the current.
High above, divers Michael Delaney and Robert Rodriguez of the New York Police Department dropped from a helicopter into the water. Fom the air, Delaney said, “it all looked very orderly. The plane’s crew appeared to do a great job.”
Both divers spotted a woman in the water, hanging onto the side of a ferry boat and “frightened out of her mind,” Rodriguez said. “She’s very lethargic.”
“I see panic out of this woman,” Rodriguez said. “She’s very cold, so she’s unable to climb up.”
The two pulled another female passenger from the water as other passengers sat calmly on the plane’s flotation devices, waiting to board the ferries clustered nearby.
Both divers climbed onto the wing and entered the plane and confirmed everyone was off.
One victim suffered two broken legs, a paramedic said, but there were no other reports of serious injuries. Fire officials said at least half the people on board were evaluated for hypothermia, bruises and other minor injuries.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson heaped praise on the rescue effort.
“They train for these kinds of emergencies, and you saw it in action,” Bloomberg said. “Because of their fast brave work, we think that contributed to the fact that it looks like everybody is safe.”
Paterson said it was a miracle.
“I think that in simplicity, this is really a potential tragedy that may have become one of the most spectacular days in the history of New York City’s agencies,” he said.