Flight 1549, an Airbus 320, took off from LaGuardia Airport at 3:26 p.m. headed for Charlotte, N.C., when birds reportedly entered the air intake of the jet engines, causing the plane to become a giant glider that was forced to land on the fast-moving water of the Hudson River.
The rescue and retrieval of 151 passengers and crew members from the frigid waters between New York and New Jersey has been described by some reporters and observers as “textbook.”
The reality is that no textbook could prepare crews for the events that transpired in the 32 degree waters. Training, solid communications, mutual aid resources, carefully stationed resources and time of day played a big part in the success of the Hudson River incident.
The fact that a host of sightseeing boats were within minutes of where the plane came to rest greatly helped rescuers, but actions by NYPD, Coast Guard and FDNY boats — routinely assigned to respond to waterway incidents — put the lifesaving icing on the cake to ensure there were no fatalities from the incident.
A literal flotilla of boats and ferries that work the waters around New York City sped to the slowly sinking jet located in river currents that kept dragging it south, as its passengers climbed aboard the wings to await help. But it was the well-trained crews from vessels operated by NYPD, FDNY and the Coast Guard that rapidly attached cables to the aircraft to slow it from slipping beneath the Hudson waters and allowed for the expeditious and safe rescue of passengers from on and near the plane.
Air resources also proved to be extremely valuable during this water incident, although not mentioned by the national media. Sgt. Michael Hendrix is an NYPD pilot who was stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn with police divers. He told a New York Times reporter that he imagined it was a small airplane, a routine job, when they launched on the call.
He and the divers took off and obtained a special route into the Hudson River scene by air traffic control. As Sgt. Hendrix took the helicopter down closer to the scene, he saw the jetliner in the water and “US Airways” spelled out on its side. Hendrix reported, “I never, in a million years, expected to see US Airways in the Hudson River.”
There noted debris and a film of jet fuel coating the water as they approached, and Hendrix saw multiple passengers on the wings.
As Hendrix hovered the helicopter, making sure he didn t get too close so that the rotor wash interfered with rescue attempts underway, the crew spotted two women in the water who appeared to be going limp and fighting for their lives in the water. It was only about five to seven minutes since the 9-1-1 call, but the crew knew even that was too long for any person subjected to the freezing cold water.
The women were clinging to a ferry but were unable to get aboard as the water quickly numbed them. “They were lethargic,” said diver (and Detective) Michael Delaney. “Their extremities were frozen cold.”
Realizing that the women had only moments to survive in the frigid water, Hendrix maneuvered his helicopter into a safe location, and Delaney and another diver, Detective Robert Rodriguez, jumped from the helicopter into the water.
Delaney and Rodriguez first swam to the woman most in distress. Detective Delaney says the first woman “was very frantic.” He added, “I just told her to relax and tell me what her name was.” She feared the ferry she was holding onto would run her over, he said. They reassured her that she would be alright and lifted her aboard a boat with the help of workers on board.
Detective Delaney then swam over to the second woman who had panicked and fallen off a ferry. He helped her into the ferry with the assistance of several passengers.
John Peruggia, chief of EMS Command for FDNY, was on the road in Queens when he got the call of a plane crashing into the Hudson River. The chief ordered 36 ambulances to be dispatched to a staging area in Manhattan.
Peruggia says that this assignment (Manhattan Box 868) was entered in the city s EMS CAD at 15:34:35 and the first FDNY EMS Ambulance (08A3) arrive on scene one minute and 12 seconds later (at 15:35:47).
FDNY EMS resources assigned to the incident included:
- 25 BLS Ambulances
- 11 ALS Units
- 7 Conditions Officers
- 4 EMS Captains
- 2 Deputy Chiefs
- 3 Division Chiefs
- 4 EMS Physicians
- Assistant Chief of EMS
- Chief of EMS
- Three (3) Major Emergency Response Vehicles (MERVs)
- Three (3) Logistical Support Units (LSUs)
- One (1) Mobile Respiratory Unit
Peruggia told the Times that by the time he arrived at the staging area, passengers were streaming in –dressed in suits and clothes for a flight to a warmer climate. He said that 88 victims were seen on the New York side and many others were handled on the New Jersey side. He reported that crews from Jersey City Medical Center and other New Jersey EMS and First Aid Squads rendered invaluable assistance during the incident.
He said most of the patients were stable, with mild signs of hypothermia. Peruggia said that of the 88 people who were transported to shore in Manhattan, 20 were transported to hospitals. He reported that the EMS crews were fortunate to be able to turn a well-enclosed and heated ferry terminal into a triage and treatment area. They were also able to use the facility’s canteen to provide warm beverages to the passengers not in need of medical attention.
Chief Peruggia reported to the Times, “One guy [who arrived at the terminal] said, ‘I stepped out of the plane, onto the wing and then onto a boat that brought me to this building and then two of your paramedics took great care of me.’ ” The chief told the Times that he jokingly asked the man to go repeat that story for the mayor, who was standing nearby.