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Final stop for Flight 1549

22 June 2012

Final stop for Flight 1549

Much has been written about Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger’s water landing of his Airbus 320 into the Hudson River on US Airways Flight 1549. Remarkable for its lack of drama as professionals make hard look easy. Using his training and experience he calmly used what he knew — which was a lot. He knew his aircraft. He knew the Hudson River, especially the location of the bridges. He also knows how to fly without power since he also pilots sailplanes. This is why we pay pilots and why they are regulated to such a high degree. Contrary to populist thought, regulation ensures high standards are met. It ensures that accounting analyses do not interfere with quality for the sake of the bottom line. It ensures that we have pilots like Sully — not hacks.

His original destination that day was Charlotte-Douglas International Airport but he accomplished his primary duty of landing all souls in good health — and stayed aboard the afloat airliner counting heads until his was the last. The Airbus 320 finally made its airport destination, though in pieces and on flatbed semi-truck trailers. It is now displayed in the Carolinas Aviation Museum, at least the fuselage along with artifacts found in the aircraft post recovery. Soon, one or both engines will be exhibited with the fuselage as well.

Cockpit damage to the A-320 of Flight 1549 — photo by Joseph May

The nose and engines took the brunt of the bird impacts during the demise of Flight 1549 — photo by Joseph May

The fuselage is largely intact and undamaged, a testament to Capt. Sullenberger’s flying skill — photo by Joseph May

A view of the fuselage aft of the left wing root where buckling from impact of the water landing is evident — photo by Joseph May

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave Brough permalink
    26 June 2012 17:27

    The reason Sully splashed 155 souls into a filthy river and destroyed an $80 million aircraft was because he forgot the primary rule of Aviation (and of life): “See and Avoid”. The simple fact is, the man (and his co-pilot) was watching “The beautiful view of the river” (transcript), hence blastering through a flock of birds that shoulda been seen and coulda been avoided.
    From there it went all downhill, starting with the fact that he misused his time and dissipated the aircraft’s energy such that, instead of returning to his starting point, LGA – proven ‘do-able’ through repeated simulations – he resorted to the river where, were it not for the incredible luck of having the NY Ferry Service mere seconds away, the loss of life would have been significant. This was one lucky man. What is even more lucky that no one has, of yet, caught up with him. His was an unthinkable act of dereliction of duty that should be rewarded, not with accolades, but jail time.

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      1 July 2012 14:05

      Hello and thanks for contributing your comment — especially since you may suspect it might be an unpopular opinion. I had not studied the crash and you intrigued me with your analysis. Thanks, too, for providing facts to substantiate the opinion you gave.

      I went to the crash report by the NTSB (NTSB/AAR-10/03 PB2010-910403) and would suggest thinking about the following points:

      “See and Avoid” is a prescription for safety to be sure. The report did not address whether the birds could have been seen sooner or not — so the NTSB is silent on that point. I would note that visibility forward in a climbing aircraft is not usually good. The report transcripts also do not state that Capt. Sullenberger was doing other than his duty — the transcripts state that both pilots were flying with no extraneous conversation per FAA rules. Sullenberger noted birds 1 second prior to impact.

      Return to LaGuardia (LGA) scenario. The flight crew used 35 seconds to restart the engines so the return to LGA scenario mentioned applied to an immediate return without attempting engine restart. You are correct in that these simulations had succesful landings at LGA. A point here must be made — a decision to return at that point is akin to going all-in during poker. The pilot is left with no options or contingencies should another event occur or if a miscalculation is made (recall that precious seconds are ticking away and scarce altitude was being lost). In other words, failure to make LGA meant crashing into Manhattan which is a less survivable situation with even more casualties from those on the ground. The crew did attempt restart, consuming 35 seconds which left no time to reach LGA or any other field as things happened (simulations to reach LGA in these scenarios failed) — except for the large landing area that is the Hudson River, which must have been a huge option for the crew. Further, Capt. Sullenberger did two critcal life saving items by immediately starting the APU though that was far down the emergency check list and selecting Flaps 2 (not Flaps 3, per the manual) to give the most control during the flare to reduce impact speed.

      Cold water immersion. You are correct in that the Hudson ferry as well as other vessels were critical in saving lives, especially any of those who would have been immersed. Their reaction was professional and inspiring. Two other factors were critical — the landing was a good one with no critical ijuries and the airliner was equiped with rafts though not required for its scheduled overland flights. The passengers were able to stand on the wings with several dozen on the raft/emergency chute (otherwise these folks would have been immersed and subject to hypothermic conditions).

      So, you see that I cannot concur with your analysis and I hope this helps overall.


      Travel for Aircraft

      PS Here is a link to a PDF of the complete report (a 6Mb download)

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