Pilot's skill saves lives in Hudson plane crash
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57-year-old pilot Chesley Sullenberger III was hailed as a hero Thursday after successfully landing his damaged US Airways Airbus in the Hudson River off Manhattan, allowing all 155 passengers to escape safely.
AFP - The pilot of the US Airways jet that crashed into icy waters off New York was hailed as a hero Thursday after coolly overseeing the miraculous escape of 155 passengers and crew.
Identified by US media as Chesley Sullenberger III, 57, the former fighter pilot was praised by survivors and officials for smoothly landing the jet belly-first onto the Hudson River.
The soft landing allowed passengers to successfully evacuate from the stricken craft and saw Sullenberger swiftly dubbed "The Hero of the Hudson".
"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 told reporters.
"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. And assures us there were not.
"The first and most important thing is, this pilot did a wonderful job, and it would appear that all roughly 155, including crew and one infant, got out safely," Bloomberg said.
New York Governor David Paterson added: "We've had a miracle on the Hudson."
Passengers also praised the pilot's actions when the Airbus A320 was forced to make a watery crash-landing after taking off on its flight from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina.
"All of a sudden the captain came on and he told us to brace ourselves and probably brace ourselves pretty hard," Jeff Kolodjay told CNN.
"But he did an amazing job -- kudos to him on that landing."
Another passenger, Fred Beretta, told the network: "I've flown in a lot of planes and that was a phenomenal landing."
Asked if he had a message for the pilot and co-pilot, Beretta said: "Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope somebody gives you a great big award for your performance."
Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), added: "It was an amazing piece of airmanship."
The flight crew's heroics meanwhile earned a tribute from President George W. Bush, who praised their "skill and heroism" and "the dedication and selflessness" of emergency responders.
Officials suspect the plane was forced to crash land after slamming into a flock of geese, damaging both engines.
But the passengers couldn't have been in safer hands. 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.
A former US Air Force fighter pilot, he has served as an instructor and safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association. He has also participated in several NTSB accident investigations.
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.
"So you'd try and touch down on the tail and keep the nose up as long as possible. So when the plane settles in you're at a slow enough airspeed so it doesn't go nose first. It certainly appears as if he managed to do that."
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