Security Tape Shows Plane's Hudson River Landing


Richard Pyle | | Friday, January 23, 2009

NEW YORK -- A newly released security camera tape shows the emergency ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in all its stunning drama - from seconds after the jetliner splashed into the frigid water until well after the last of the 155 passengers and crew members were rescued.

The tape, made available to news media on Thursday by the Consolidated Edison utility, runs 47 minutes and 5 seconds - by far the longest video account of what Gov. David Paterson termed "a miracle on the Hudson."

It also provides the most precise continuous record of when rescuers arrived and what happened when they did. At points in the tape, a dozen watercraft of different kinds can be seen clustered around the drifting plane.

Flight 1549, bound for Charlotte, N.C., had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 15 when it collided with a flock of birds, disabling both its engines. The pilot, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, of Danville, Calif., guided the crippled Airbus A320 to a splashdown in what experts have called a heroic feat of flying. All aboard survived.

The Con Ed tape, which company spokesman Chris Olert said was recorded by a security camera at a steam plant on Manhattan's west side, begins with the plane hitting the river and skidding to a halt in a spray of water and steam at 3:25 p.m.

Within a minute, an emergency slide folds from the plane's right side, and the first passengers and crew members appear on the wings where dozens gathered to await rescue. One or two people are visible in the water, which authorities said was a dangerous 41 degrees at the time.

The first rescue craft, the New York Waterway commuter ferry Thomas Jefferson, reaches the floating aircraft at 3:29 p.m. and begins taking people off the right wing as deckhands toss life jackets into the water and lower a ladder to pull out people.

That ferry had just pulled away from a terminal with 22 passengers bound for Weehawken, N.J., and rescued 56 people from the plane, NY Waterway spokesman Pat Smith said. By day's end, 14 of the company's 34 ferries played some role in the drama, he said.

Two minutes later, a second ferry, the Gov. Thomas Keane, reaches the scene from the New Jersey side of the river and takes 24 people, followed a minute later by a third NY Waterway ferry, the Yogi Berra, which rescues 22 people.

By 3:48 p.m., six ferries have converged on the plane, along with two police helicopters, two police and fire department emergency boats apiece, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, a Circle Line sightseeing boat and a private boat, whose owner, Scott Koen, rescues six people and helps them aboard a ferry.

By then, the survivors are safely away from the plane, which is sinking as it drifts downstream at about 3 mph, with the rescue fleet fighting the current to stay with it. Only the aircraft's dark blue vertical tail fin, cockpit windows and left wing tip are visible as the tape ends at 4:12 p.m.

Sullenberger told federal investigators that in deciding the river was his only choice, he looked for an area where boats were nearby and could get to the plane in a hurry.

The camera position indicates that the plane landed in mid-river at approximately 58th Street.

Olert said the tape initially was turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash landing. He said the NTSB approved its release to the media on Wednesday.

The aircraft was taken by barge to a Jersey City, N.J., marina for examination. The left engine, which sheared off on impact with the water, was found by divers Wednesday.

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