“We’re gonna be in the Hudson” – 10 years since US Airways flight 1549

Photo: © Greg Lam Pak Ng

15th January 2019 marks 10 years since US Airways flight 1549 performed an emergency landing in the Hudson River in New York.

Cactus 1549

On a January day in 2009, 155 people were on board US Airways (callsign Cactus) flight 1549 from New York’s La Guardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina. The nine-and-a-half year-old Airbus A320 (N106US) departed La Guardia’s Runway 4 at 3:25 pm local time. Two minutes later, while climbing through 3,700 feet, the aircraft struck a flock of Canadian geese. Both engines suffered bird strikes, and immediately lost power. Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully) and First officer Jeffrey Skiles informed Air Traffic Control of the emergency and made an attempt to turn the stricken aircraft back to La Guardia.

During the turn and while working the checklists to get the engines relighted, Sully & Skiles realised they didn’t have enough altitude to make it back to the airport. In response to being cleared by ATC for an emergency approach into nearby Teterboro, Sully made the famous call “We can’t do it… We’re gonna be in the Hudson”. Sully flew the aircraft towards the Hudson River and performed an almost perfect ditching into the freezing water. The aircraft remained almost entirely intact upon impact with the surface of the river.

The A320 features a ‘Ditching’ button in the cockpit, which closes all the external outlets and valves to reduce the intake of water in the event of a ditching. Due to the lack of time available to them, the crew weren’t able to activate the ditching system. All 155 passengers and crew survived the impact and managed to evacuate the aircraft as it started to sink. Nearby boats and emergency crews came to the rescue, as the tail slowly disappeared below the surface.

Rescue workers attend to the aircraft. Photo: © Janis Krums

Most water landings end in disaster, as parts of the aircraft tend to ‘dig’ in and often lead to the airframe breaking apart. Due to the outstanding airmanship from both Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles, the accident was a textbook example of how to land a modern airliner on water. The fact that the A320 remained intact and nobody was seriously hurt or killed is known as “The Miracle on the Hudson”.

The accident aircraft was salvaged from the river and is now visible to the public at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina.