River Scoured for Clues to Crash

By MATTHEW L. WALD and LIZ ROBBINS

Published: January 16, 2009

The US Airways plane lost both engines when it splashed down in the Hudson River on Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a news conference on Friday. The Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers spent the day scouting the river bottom for the engines, clues to the crash of the Airbus A320 in which all 155 people aboard escaped safely.

The black box data and voice recorders and other important components that will help determine the cause of the crash are still in the tail of the airplane, which is moored to a bulkhead at Battery Park City in 30 feet of water, a transportation safety board member, Kathryn O. Higgins, said.

The strong current and near-freezing water temperature hindered divers from recovering the black boxes on Friday, Ms. Higgins said. On Saturday, she said, investigators planned to extract the aircraft from the icy water with two large cranes, placing the plane on a barge for transit to a secure location.

“The hope is to lift it up and out in one piece, if that’s possible,” Ms. Higgins said. “Once the recorders are removed, we’ll document the damage to the plane, and obviously there is damage we can see already. If we can get this plane out of the water tomorrow, I think that is a fast occurrence.”

Tracking US Airways Flight 1549

She also said that investigators plan to interview the two pilots on Saturday morning to gain insight into their decision-making in the rushed period between the time they reported a bird strike on each of the two engines — at an altitude of probably a little over 3,200 feet — and when they ditched the airplane in the river.

She said the transportation safety board had not yet interviewed Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III, 57, who has been widely praised for landing the crippled jetliner in the river moments after takeoff.

Amid his newfound celebrity — on Friday morning, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg showed off a key to the city he had for Mr. Sullenberger — the captain still had not made any public comments, nor had he spoken to the safety board.

Ms. Higgins would not elaborate on why the interviews had not yet taken place. But it is not unusual for pilots to appear at such interviews with lawyers provided by their union. Mr. Sullenberger was a member of the union’s safety committee and has served on other crash investigations.

Capt. C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who made an emergency landing in the Hudson River.

“His brave actions have inspired people in this city and millions around the world,” Mr. Bloomberg said at his news conference at City Hall. The mayor also presented certificates of appreciation to 22 first responders from city agencies and to 3 employees of New York Waterway.

As investigators prepared to hoist the aircraft from the Hudson, divers from the New York Police DepartmentIwere helping to stabilize it. Divers determined that the right engine was no longer attached this morning. But they had only been able to enter the water during slack tide, between the high and the low tides; the icy river also restricted the divers’ access to the plane.

“They are diving to help inspect it,” Paul J. Browne, a police department spokesman, said earlier in the day. “They are putting these big harnesses underneath it.”

High on the list of questions is the location of the jet engines, which were possibly incapacitated by a flock of birds during the plane’s ascent. It is not uncommon for engines, mounted under the wings, to detach from the impact of the crash, Ms. Higgins said.

Engineers using sonar equipment will continue to search a few square miles of the river through Friday evening for the engines.

Investigators said they are also looking for video accounts of the plane’s brief flight. They have split into teams and invited outside specialists, including some from the Department of Agriculture, who will help analyze the reports about birds. Ms. Higgins said that the engines’ internal parts will generally yield enough DNA to allow investigators to identify not only whether there were birds, but “down to precisely the exact type of bird,” said Ms. Higgins.

Captain Sullenberger had radioed the control tower just after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport to say the plane had suffered “a double bird strike.”

Ms. Higgins said this was the first accident in a long time where bird strikes might have been a problem. “I think it’s fair to say it’s uncommon, it’s not something we see with any frequency,” she said.

What might have been a catastrophe was averted by Mr. Sullenberger’s quick thinking and deft maneuvers, using the river as a landing strip..

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today,” said one passenger, Mary Berkwits, of Stallings, N.C., who prepared to return to Charlotte on Friday morning at La Guardia Airport. “He was just wonderful.”

The lead officials in Thursday’s rescue spoke about the coordinated efforts amid the brisk current and icy water that enabled every passenger and crew member to reach the shore safely.

“I was worried if we didn’t get them out right away there would have been casualties,” said a New York Waterway captain, Vincent Lombardi, who was the first on the scene.

The chief of Emergency Medical Services, John Peruggia, agreed. “If we weren’t there in another few minutes and got them on board and got them warm,” he said, “they could have died.”

Many on board and others watching from shore were shocked that the aircraft did not sink immediately. Instead, the pilot landed the plane nose up, and on its fuselage. The Airbus A320 has a “ditching switch,” which the pilot probably engaged to close valves and vents to slow the flow of water into the plane. The aircraft, floating, then twisted and drifted south in strong currents as three commuter ferries moved in.

Moments later, terrified passengers began swarming out the emergency exits into brutally cold air and onto the submerged wings of the bobbing jetliner, which had begun taking on water.

“I was on the wing hanging on with a lot of other passengers,” Ms. Berkwits said. “We’re slowly sinking further and further into the water. And the water was very cold. We’re all trying to stay as warm as possible by holding on to one another.”

As the first ferry nudged up alongside, witnesses said, some passengers were able to leap onto the deck. Others were helped aboard by ferry crews. Soon, a small armada of police boats, fireboats, tugboats and Coast Guard craft converged on the scene, and some of them snubbed up to keep the jetliner afloat. Helicopters brought police divers, who also helped with the rescue.

A picture emerged late Thursday and Friday morning of just how perilous the rescue and the towing of the aircraft was as boat operators battled the swift tide.

Capt. Richard Johnson, 52, of the New York Fire Department, said: “We came right alongside the wing and the pilot did a great job of holding position. They kind of jumped toward the boat and we pulled them off, one at a time. Their legs would be hanging over the side and then we had to heave them over the side of the boat and we had to do that with each individual person.”

Capt. Vincent Lucante, 41, of New York Waterway, who helped rescue two infants from an emergency life raft, had his own harrowing tale to tell. He said he saw the mothers handing the babies to a crew member, before climbing the steps to the ferry.

“They were all shivering,” Mr. Lucante said. “I felt so much relief to get the children off that life raft. When they got up to the second deck of the ferry, where it is warmest, they started to cry, which was the best sound you could hear.”

Brought ashore on both sides of the river, the survivors were taken to hospitals in Manhattan and New Jersey, mostly for treatment of exposure to the brutal cold: 18 degrees in the air and about 35 degrees in the water that many had stood in.

Once all the passengers had been evacuated onto rescue boats — and the pilot walked up and down the aisle twice to make sure the plane was empty — the fire boat, a 27-foot rescue vessel, had to secure the plane.

“We ran the rope through the cockpit door, open, and out the other side, through the other side and got it lashed through,” Mr. Johnson said. “We wrapped it around the tail. We were not sure the two lines would hold up. And they could have snapped anytime. A couple times, we were attempting to get more lines on it, but we were nearing close to Battery Park.”

On Friday, investigators focused on recovering the “black boxes,” the cockpit voice recorder, which would probably capture conversations between the two pilots, and the flight data recorder. On this airplane, 10 years old, the flight data recorder keeps a detailed record of the functioning of engines, flight-control surfaces, pumps, valves and many other airplane parts.

W. Douglas Parker, chairman and chief executive of US Airways, and officials of the Federal Aviation Administration said on Thursday that Flight 1549 had taken off from La Guardia at 3:26 p.m., bound for Charlotte. It headed north, across the East River and over the Bronx on a route that would involve a sweeping left turn to head south. But both engines lost power about a minute into the flight.

At the news conference with the mayor on Friday, Mr. Parker said, “Yesterday’s event unfolded in a matter of minutes, and determining what happened will take longer than that.”

Reporting was contributed by Michael Barbaro, Carla Baranauckas, Ken Belson, Viv Bernstein, Ralph Blumenthal, Cara Buckley, Russ Buettner, David W. Chen, Glenn Collins, Jim Dwyer, Kareem Fahim, Kevin Flynn, Anemona Hartocollis, Christine Hauser, Javier C. Hernandez, C. J. Hughes, Tina Kelley, Corey Kilgannon, Patrick LaForge, Andrew W. Lehren, Robert D. McFadeden, Patrick McGeehan, Jo Craven McGinty, Mick Meenan, Colin Moynihan, Christine Negroni, Kenny Porpora, William K. Rashbaum, Ray Rivera, Marc Santora, Nate Schweber, Kirk Semple, Joel Stonington, A. E. Velez, Mathew R. Warren and Margot Williams.

Source : New York Times

1 Comment

Filed under Air Transport

One response to “River Scoured for Clues to Crash

  1. At about the two minute mark you can see US Air Flight 1549 skid into the Hudson. Then, you can see the passengers climb out onto the wings. This video is 10 minutes long. Actual video of Flight 1549 skidding into the Hudson.

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