Lots of people owe Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III a profound ‘thank you’.
Sullenberger was at the controls of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 which took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport headed for Charlotte, North Carolina, earlier today. Within a few minutes after the flight began, the Airbus A320 airliner collided with a flock of geese which damaged both engines and crippled the craft.
Sullenberger attempted to return to the airport, but it soon became clear that the plane—with no power and little altitude—would not make it. Faced with very, very limited options, the pilot made the decision to ditch the aircraft into the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.
Miraculously, every single one of the 155 passengers and crew survived. There were some minor injuries, and some who were exposed to the frigid water had to be treated for hypothermia, but every last soul aboard was rescued and will live.
While ditching in water is, indeed, a part of every commercial pilot’s training, it is a ‘last resort’ maneuver. People have survived these kinds of landings, but until today it had never been done in a commercial jet airliner without a loss of life. Circumstances were on Sullenberger’s side—proximity to the river when the event occured, and relatively calm conditions on the river—but there is no doubt that his consummate skills as a pilot saved lives today. God bless you, Capt. Sullenberger.
As for the bird strike itself, it’s not uncommon for birds to collide with aircraft. It is, however, very rare for bird strikes to completely disable a multi-engine aircraft. Geese are big, mean-spirited birds that travel in packs though, so it’s not too surprising.