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Four years ago this month, US Airways Flight 1549 successfully ditched in the Hudson River following loss of thrust in both turbofan engines.  Incredibly, all 155 passengers and crew members survived.

US Airways Flight 1549 lifted-off from Runway 4 of New York’s LaGuardia Airport at 18:25:56 UTC on Thursday, 15 January 2009.  The Airbus 320-214 (N106US) was making its 16,299th flight.  Call sign for the day’s flight was Cactus 1549.

Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III and First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles were in the cockpit of Cactus 1549.  Donna Dent, Doreen Welsh and Sheila Dail served as flight attendants.  Together, these crew members were responsible for the lives of 150 airline passengers.

Following a normal take-off, Cactus 1549 collided with a massive flock of Canadian Geese climbing through 3,000 feet.  Numerous bird strikes were experienced.  Most critically, both CFM56-5B4/P turbofan engines suffered bird ingestion.  As Captain Sullenberger succinctly described it later, the result was “sudden, complete, symmetrical” loss of thrust.

Quickly assessing their predicament, Captain Sullenberger instinctively knew that he could not get his aircraft back to a land-based runway.  He was flying too low and slow to make such an attempt.  He would have to ditch his 150,000-pound aircraft in the nearest waterway; the Hudson River.

The story of what ensued following loss of thrust is best told by Captain Sullenberger himself.  The reader is therefore directed to chapters 13 and 14 of his post-mishap book entitled “Highest Duty”.  The bottom line is that the aircraft was successfully ditched in the Hudson River roughly three and half minutes after loss of thrust.

Once the aircraft was on the water, the crew members evacuated all 150 passengers in less than 4 minutes.  People either got into life rafts or stood on the aircraft’s wings.  It was very cold.  Air temperature was 21F with a windchill factor of 11F.  The water temperature registered at 36F.

First responders from the New York Waterway quickly came to the aid of Cactus 1549.  A total of fourteen vessels responded to the emergency with the first boat arriving within four minutes of the aircraft coming to a stop.

Many selfless acts of compassion and exemplary displays of valor were observed during Cactus 1549 rescue operations.  This was true for those amongst the ranks of the rescuers and rescued alike.

Happily and to the great relief of the US Airways flight crew, there was no loss of life resulting from the emergency ditching of Cactus 1549.  Now known as “The Miracle on the Hudson”, the events of that harrowing experience on a winter day in NYC will be forever remembered in the annals of aviation.

For their professional efforts in handling the Cactus 1549 in-flight emergency, Chesley Sullenberger, Jeff Skiles, Donna Dent, Doreen Welsh and Sheila Dail received the rarely-awarded Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators Master’s Medal on Thursday, 22 January 2009.

In part, the Master’s Medal citation read: “The reactions of all members of the crew, the split second decision making and the handling of this emergency and evacuation was ‘text book’ and an example to us all.  To have safely executed this emergency ditching and evacuation, with the loss of no lives, is a heroic and unique aviation achievement.”

To which we say:  Amen!

Posted in Aerospace, History

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