It was just like any other day, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles exchange pleasantries, it was the first time either of the pilots had flown with each other. They were the first to board the plane, they then followed the standard procedure of doing internal and external checks on the plane they were about to fly, which was an Airbus A320. At the time, 57 year-old Sully had 19,663 total flight hours, including 4,765 in an A320; he was also a glider pilot and expert on aviation safety. First officer Jeffrey Skiles, 49, had accrued 20,727 career flight hours with 37 in an A320, but this was his first A320 assignment as pilot flying.
As there were no complications on the plane before takeoff, passengers were allowed to board, the plane was headed from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Charlotte Douglas (CLT). There were a total of 150 passengers and three flight attendants on board.
After conducting all checks on the plane and with them coming back clean, the plane was ready for takeoff. Initial takeoff was smooth and saw no issues.
At 3:25:51: The crew made its first report after becoming airborne as being at 700 feet (210 m) and climbing.
At 3:26:37: Sullenberger remarked to Skiles: “What a view of the Hudson today.”
At 3:27:11: The plane struck a flock of Canadian geese at an altitude of 2,818 feet (859 m) about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) north-northwest of LaGuardia. The pilots’ view was filled with the large birds, passengers and crew heard very loud bangs and saw flames from the engines, followed by silence and an odor of fuel.
Realizing that they had lost power in not 1, but 2 engines, Sullenberger took control while Skiles worked the checklist for engine restart. The plane reached a maximum height of 930m before beginning a glide descent.
At 3:27:33: Sullenberger radioed in a mayday call to Air Traffic Control, informing them that they had lost thrust in both engines and requested for permission to return to LaGuardia Airport.
Air traffic controller Patrick Harten told LaGuardia’s tower to hold all departures, and directed Sullenberger back to Runway 13. Sullenberger responded, “Unable”. Followed by the harrowing words “We may end up in the Hudson”. Silence followed over the radio.
Sullenberger asked controllers for landing options in New Jersey, mentioning Teterboro Airport. Permission was given for Teterboro’s Runway 1, Sullenberger initially responded “Yes”, but then: “We can’t do it … We’re gonna be in the Hudson”.
Sullenberger then came over the intercom for the cabin, with the now infamous words “Brace for impact.” The cabin crew then started instructing passengers on safety procedures. Sullenberger then looked over at his co-pilot, they had both been operating the past few minutes almost in silence. He asked, “You got any ideas”? Jeffrey replied, “Actually none”.
The plane touched down on the Hudson River, in the middle of New York City. Boats came to the rescue and aid in the evacuation of the 155 people who were onboard.
Some climbed out onto the wings, some got onto inflatable rafts, and others, fearing an explosion, swam away from the plane. The temperature of the water was about 5°C, as the plane was quickly submerged as the doors were opened.
Captain Sullenberger remained in the aircraft and double-checked the entire aircraft for any remaining passengers, before being the last person off the aircraft.
Captain Sullenberger, his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles, and the cabin crew’s quick and noble actions saved every single life on the aircraft that day, all 155 passengers were saved, most of them only suffering minor injury.
Ever since that crash, pilots were then trained to perform water landings in the event that such a situation ever arises again.
The landing was rightfully nicknamed “The Miracle On the Hudson”.
Watch Captain Sullenberger describe the plane landing here:
Watch a reenactment of the landing from the movie Sully (2016)