New York heaps praise on river crash pilot

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The Independent US

New York today feted its latest hero, the reclusive pilot who landed a distressed US Airways jet on the Hudson River, saving all 155 on board in what experts called a masterful job under life-or-death pressure.

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger had yet to appear in public, a day after he brought the Airbus A320 to a textbook emergency landing on the river that separates New York City from New Jersey in what New York Governor David Paterson called "a miracle on the Hudson."

City officials said he would not be available until he has finished providing information to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident. The Federal Aviation Administration said it was investigating reports the plane hit a flock of birds shortly after taking off from New York's LaGuardia airport.

Sullenberger, 57, a former US Air Force pilot and air safety consultant, steered the wounded jetliner over the densely populated city and brought it down on the river, warning passengers to "brace for impact."

One woman suffered two broken legs but most people were unharmed except for suffering from the cold. Ferries rescued passengers from the wing, where they stood in 20 degree Fahrenheit (-6 Celsius) weather, their feet dipping into water of 41 degrees F (5 C).

"That pilot is a stud," one police source told the New York Daily News, which headlined its front page "Hero of the Hudson."

"After the crash, he was sitting there in the ferry terminal, wearing his hat, sipping his coffee and acting like nothing happened."

"He looked absolutely immaculate," another rescuer told the Daily News. "He looked like David Niven in an airplane uniform," the rescuer said, referring to the dapper British actor. "He looked unruffled. His uniform was sharp."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that with the plane sinking into the river Sullenberger walked the aisle twice to make sure no one was left behind.

"When he called me he said, 'There's been an accident.' At first I thought it was something minor, but then he told me the circumstances and my body started shaking and I rushed to get our daughters out of school," his wife, Lorrie Sullenberger, told CNN.

Air traffic controllers reported he may have lost both engines of the Airbus A320, which is designed to be able to fly with one engine out.

According to details pieced together from air traffic controllers and aviation officials with knowledge of the flight, it seemed as if the entire incident of several minutes passed in a flash, demanding that Sullenberger employ every bit of his 40 years of flight experience.

According to controllers, an "eerie calm" defined controller and cockpit communications as options dwindled. The plane lacked the power return to LaGuardia or land at small Teterboro Airport across the river in New Jersey, an official of the controllers' union told Reuters.

"That was pretty much it," said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). "It was very clear to our controllers that he was going to make an attempt at the Hudson."

Radar showed the nearly 10-year-old jet making a series of tight left turns to head down the river, flying low over the George Washington Bridge before Sullenberger, from Danville, California, set the plane down in the river, kicking up a tremendous splash.