Hudson pilot 'did everything right'

Charlie McCathie,Press Association
Friday 16 January 2009 08:31

The pilot who managed to safely land a plane on the Hudson River in New York, saving the lives of all 150 passengers on board, did "absolutely everything right," according to an aviation expert.

US Airways Flight 1549 had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport en route to Charlotte, North Carolina, when it struck a flock of birds, and David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight Global, said that the pilot made a textbook landing.

"If you know you are facing a ditching, the crash-landing of an aircraft on water, it is crucial that you land the plane absolutely level.

"You must not try to keep the plane airborne and if you land it too slowly you will drop out of the sky."

Mr Learmount said that the pilot had to land the plane perfectly straight - otherwise it would have broken up on impact.

"It is quite clear that he got everything absolutely right. Witness reports suggest that the plane hit a flock of birds, and it must have damaged both engines because if it had been one the captain would have been able to continue.

"Even if he only had a very small percentage of power or even no power at all it is still possible to ditch a plane, providing you can stick the nose down."

Water is always the safest option to land on if you are forced to crash land a plane, Mr Learmount said.

"If you are choosing between a forest, a city and water then water is safer everytime, so that you can float on the surface, especially if there is land nearby as there was in this case, and the passengers can make a safe exit," he said.

Mr Learmount said that ditchings - the crash landing of planes on water - are extremely rare and that the last one he could recall was that of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, which was hijacked on November 23, 1996 en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi.

Three Ethiopians seeking political asylum hijacked the plane, forcing the pilot to crash-land in the Indian Ocean near Comoros after running out of fuel, and 125 of the 175 passengers and crew on board were killed.

In January last year, British Airways co-pilot John Coward was lauded as a hero after he made an emergency landing at Heathrow Airport.

The 41-year-old senior first officer was at the controls of a Boeing 777 when the power cut out two miles from landing, due to ice in the fuel delivery system.

All 152 passengers and crew survived the British Airways Flight 38, after he landed the plane short of the runway, narrowly clearing the perimeter fence.

A flock of starlings forced a Ryanair plane to make an emergency landing at Rome Ciampino airport on November 10 last year. Around 1,000 birds caused a loss of power in both engines, but the pilot landed the plane safely on the runway.

Chris Yates, a civil aviation security analyst for Jane's Aviation, said the Hudson crash landing was "a remarkable piece of flying".

"It seems that everything happened in 45 seconds from take off. Once he lost power the only thing assisting him was momentum.

"The aircraft would have been going at around 200 miles an hour and he had such a short space of time to act.

"Water was the best option because you are away from the buildings and the people and it is a relatively soft landing.

"Obviously pilots train for this moment but some people react faster than others, and in these circumstances the landing is nothing short of miraculous."

Mr Yates said there may not have been time for much panic to set in among the passengers because it all happened so quickly, which may have aided the evacuation.

"You can imagination the realisation would have set in only in the last few seconds when the pilot would have been shouting 'brace, brace, brace'. Then and only then the magnitude would have sunk in," he said.

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