Wed. Feb 1st, 2023

On January 15th, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 made history by successfully ditching in the Hudson River, resulting in no fatalities. This event is considered one of aviation’s greatest survival stories. As we reflect on the 14th anniversary of this incident, let’s delve into the story of the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

Miracle on the Hudson: How everything began?

On January 15th of 2009, a US Airways flight 1549 from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina, left the tarmac at 15:25 with 155 passengers on board an Airbus A320 led by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III who is a 57-year-old former Air Force fighter pilot and a 29-year veteran of US Airways, and the Copilot Jeff Skiles.

Aircraft involved in US FLIGHT 1549
Aircraft involved in US FLIGHT 1549
Photo by: Greg Gayden

Everything was alright for the first 90 seconds after airborne until something caught the eye of the Copilot (“Jeff Skiles”) at 3,000 feet; he saw a flock of Canada geese headed toward the plane, and he shouted: “Birds!!”; moments later, the geese struck the fuselage, wings, and engines.

The passengers felt a powerful thud against the airplane, along with severe vibrations from the engines and a loud explosion. The cabin was then filled up with smoke, a horrible smell came to be, and then an eerie quiet: both engines were disabled.

The reaction of the pilot: just crazy!

Sullenberger made the mayday radio call to the Air Traffic Control (ATC): “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, followed with the explanation of the situation but calmly.” They discussed their options. It was either to return to LaGuardia or to land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, as it was the closest Airport to them. But surprisingly, Sullenberger decided on a radical move: He’d ditch the plane in the Hudson River!!

We all know that neither the Airbus A320 nor any other passenger plane is built to land on water!

“Brace for impact,” said Sullenberger through the intercom. Passengers thought they were going to die, as anyone in this situation would think. The flight attendants start yelling: “Brace! Brace! Brace! Heads down! Stay down!”.

Miracle on the Hudson
Image source: Sully movie

The ‘wet’ touchdown

Sullenberger lowered the plane’s nose in a gradual glide toward the river. The plane managed to clear the George Washington Bridge, and, against the odds, he landed safely on the surface of the Hudson. It skidded across the water at 145 mph and finally slowed to a stop!

CCTV Footage of the plane ditching
Video source: Air Safety #OTD by Francisco Cunha on Twitter

He jumped out of his seat quickly, went out of the cockpit, and shouted: “Evacuate the plane!”

His job was now to get all passengers out of the plane, which was quickly filling up with water. Witnesses were convinced that everyone on this flight was dead. What they couldn’t see was that passengers were already exiting the plane. With water seeping into the plane, Sullenberger and Skiles walked the length of the cabin twice, calling “Is anyone there?!”. The water was too cold, they had to walk on top of the seats. But they would not leave the plane until they were sure everyone was out.

Thankfully 154 men, women, and children owed their lives to a modest man who faced adversity with cool competence on one of the most remarkable days in aviation history.

Miracle on the Hudson
Flight US1549 was ditched in the Hudson in 2009 following multiple bird strikes. Photo: Getty Images

People’s reactions

Captain Sullenberger III
Captain Sullenberger III
Photo Source: Smithsonian Magazine

“He’s the man,” said one of the rescued passengers. “If you want to talk to a hero, get a hold of him.”

“He was thinking in nanoseconds,” said a dormer airline pilot, speaking of Sullenberger. “He made all the right choices at all the right times. He might have been staring at the instrument, but he was feeling that airplane in his hands. He picked his landing spot and went for it”.

After all the thanking was over, Sullenberger was humble. “You’re welcome,” he said simply. Like most heroes, he didn’t want the label. According to him, he was just doing his job.

Miracle on the Hudson

Sully Movie

In 2016, many people relived what happened when a movie was made about the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ named “Sully.” Tom Hanks was representing Sullenberger; the movie was directed by Clint Eastwood and won several awards. I recommend watching it if you didn’t do so yet!


Miracle on the Hudson
Tom Hanks in the character of Captain Sullenberger III in his movie “Sully.”

Sources:

  • Featured Image: Getty Images

By Youssef Yahya

Youssef is the president and founder of Aviation for Aviators; in addition to his role as Chief-in-Editor of the platform's website, Youssef is currently pursuing an engineering degree at Nile University in Egypt. With his unique blend of passion, expertise, and entrepreneurial spirit, Youssef is passionate about combining these traits with aviation to provide a unique resource for aviation enthusiasts and professionals alike.

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