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'Go Team' to investigate New York air crash

The US National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched a "Go Team" to investigate the wreckage of the Airbus that crashed into the Hudson River. Investigators have established that both engines came off the plane on impact.

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AFP - US investigators were in New York Friday to scrutinize the wreckage of the Airbus that crashed in the Hudson River and interview the pilot hailed as a hero for saving all 155 passengers and crew.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it had dispatched a "Go Team" to New York, where the US Airways Airbus A-320 was still tethered early Friday to a Manhattan dock in the freezing Hudson.

The 20 member team led by senior air safety investigator Robert Benzon was expected to recover the black box flight recorder and examine the engines for evidence that a collision with birds may have triggered the crash.

New York governor Governor David Paterson hailed the near-disaster as the "Miracle on the Hudson" as the media described the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger III, as the patron saint of air passengers for guiding his crippled jet safely into the river.

All 150 passengers and five crew on US Airways flight 1549 were able to step out of the sinking aircraft and into rescue boats, few of them even suffering injuries.

The jet had just taken off from New York's La Guardia airport for Charlotte in North Carolina. But the crew told air traffic controllers that the jet hit a flock of geese which knocked out both engines, US media reported.

There was no time to return to La Guardia and no other airport was close enough, so the crew decided to ditch.

"They then cleared the George Washington Bridge by about 900 feet, according to controllers, and at a point near the end of West 48th Street in Midtown Manhattan, the plane slid into the river's smooth, gray waters," the New York Times wrote.

In a few seconds, frantic passengers left the plane and clustered on airplane wings, chilly river water lapping at their feet. Ferryboats steamed to the rescue as the aircraft slipped under the waters.

One crew member suffered a leg cut and several passengers were treated for exposure to the icy temperatures, local media reported.

Passenger Jeff Kolodjay said he saw the engine blow up. "We thought we were going to circle around, but we didn't have time," he told the Newsday newspaper.

He heard Sullenberger tell passengers to brace for impact and then said the Hail Mary prayer. "We hit the water pretty hard," Kolodjay told the newspaper -- hard enough for some people to hit their heads on the ceiling.

But once on the river, the doors opened and passengers headed for the wings as water poured into the jet, Kolodjay said.

"It would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river, and then making sure that everybody got out," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

"I had a long conversation with the pilot. He walked the plane twice after everybody else was off and tried to verify that there was nobody else onboard."

Aviation experts interviewed in the US media said that landing the plane at that angle was tricky. Had Sullenberger made a mistake the fuselage would likely have cracked and taken on water upon hitting the river, they said.

President George W. Bush praised the "skill and heroism" of Sullenberger and the other crew.

One passenger, Fred Beretta, said Sullenberger carried out a "phenomenal landing."

Asked if he had a message for the crew, Beretta said: "Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope somebody gives you a great big award for your performance."

Sullenberger runs a transport safety consultancy and has clocked up 19,000 hours of flying time in a 40-year-career as a pilot, according to a biography on his website.

The former US Air Force fighter pilot has served as an instructor and safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association. He has also participated in several accident investigations for the NTSB.

John Silcott, a United Airlines pilot with eight years experience of flying the Airbus A320, said Sullenberger's safe landing was "remarkable."

"I would definitely call the guy a hero. To have no fatalities -- that is remarkable," said Silcott, an executive at Expert Aviation Consulting.

Silcott said the relatively calm waters of the Hudson -- as opposed to the heaving swell faced by a pilot seeking to land a plane on the ocean -- would have assisted Sullenberger.

He added the positioning of the Airbus A320's engines under the wing would have left Sullenberger trying to make the plane land tail first.

"The last thing you want is for the engines, which are under the wing, to dig into the water and push the nose into the water," he said.

Eyewitness Troy Keitt, 46, told AFP he was so surprised to see the crash he was convinced it was part of a movie being filmed.

"No one was panicking," he told AFP, adding that he had been astonished not to hear screams as people lined up on the wings.
  

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