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US Airways plane to NC crashes into Hudson River
NEW YORK (AP) — A US Airways pilot ditched his disabled jetliner into the frigid Hudson River on Thursday afternoon after a collision with a flock of birds apparently knocked out both engines, but rescuers pulled all 155 people on board into boats as the plane sank.
There were no immediate reports of any serious injuries.
Flight 1549 went down minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport for Charlotte, N.C., splashing into the river near 48th Street in midtown Manhattan.
"There were eyewitness reports the plane may have flown into a flock of birds," said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown. "Right now we don’t have any indication this was anything other than an accident."
Passenger Jeff Kolodjay of Norwalk, Conn., said he heard an explosion two or three minutes into the flight, looked out the left side of the Airbus 320 and saw one of the engines on fire.
"The captain said, `Brace for impact because we’re going down,"’ Kolodjay said. He said passengers put their heads in their laps and started saying prayers. He said the plane hit the water pretty hard, but he was fine.
"It was intense. It was intense. You’ve got to give it to the pilot. He made a hell of a landing," Kolodjay said.
The plane was submerged in the icy waters up to the windows when rescuers in Coast Guard vessels and ferry boats arrived, opened the door and pulled passengers in yellow life vests from the aircraft, whose fuselage appeared intact. The plane was sinking in the near-freezing water on one of the coldest days of the year, with the mercury around 20 degrees.
Witnesses said the plane’s pilot appeared to guide the plane down.
"I see a commercial airliner coming down, looking like it’s landing right in the water," said Bob Read, who saw it from his office at the television newsmagazine "Inside Edition." "This looked like a controlled descent."
Barbara Sambriski, a researcher at The Associated Press, saw the plane go down from the news organization’s high-rise office. "I just thought, ‘Why is it so low?’ And, splash, it hit the water," she said.
The pilot reported a "double bird strike" less than a minute after taking off, said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Union. The controller sent the aircraft back toward LaGuardia, but the pilot saw an airport below him and asked what it was, Church said. It was Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, and the pilot asked to land there, Church said.
The instruction to land at Teterboro was the last communication with the plane before it went down in the river, Church said.
US Airways said 150 passengers, three flight attendants and two pilots were on board the jetliner.
Joe Mazzone, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot, said it is not unusual for birds to strike planes. In fact, he said, when planes get ready to take off, if there are birds in the area, the tower will alert the crew.
In the rare cases in which birds get sucked into an engine, "they literally just choke out the engine and it quits," Mazzone said.
Twenty-seven years ago this week, an Air Florida plane bound for Tampa crashed into the Potomac River after hitting a bridge just after takeoff from Washington National Airport. The crash on Jan. 13, 1982, killed 78 people including four people in their cars on the bridge. Five people on the plane survived.
On Dec. 20, a Continental Airlines plane veered off a runway and slid into a snowy field at the Denver airport, injuring 38 people. That was the first major crash of a commercial airliner in the United States since Aug. 27, 2006, when 49 people were killed after a Comair jetliner mistakenly took off from the wrong runway in Lexington, Ky.
Associated Press writers Eileen Sullivan and Michael J. Sniffen in Washington and Harry R. Weber in Atlanta contributed to this report.