All 155 passengers and crew members were rescued Thursday from a plane that went down in the Hudson River near Manhattan after bird strikes apparently disabled both engines, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says.
Ferries, water taxis and a helicopter rushed to help passengers and crew on the Airbus 320 after it ditched at about 3:30 p.m. ET.
"Our preliminary report is that everyone is off the plane and accounted for," said Doug Parker, US Airways CEO.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that police divers had to rescue some passengers from underwater, adding several passengers were taken to hospital and are in stable condition.
"We do not believe that there are serious injuries," Bloomberg said.
Fire officials said at least half the people on board were sent to hospitals with hypothermia, bruises and other minor injuries. Paramedic Helen Rodriguez said the worst injury she saw was a woman with two broken legs.
Bloomberg said he had a long conversation with the pilot, who told him he walked the length of the plane twice after the crash and was last one up the aisle to make sure no one was behind him.
"It would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river, and then making sure everybody got out," he said.
One passenger earlier told reporters a woman's leg was severed in the crash.
'Double bird strike' reported
Television footage showed some passengers standing on the aircraft's wings awaiting rescue while the plane floated in the frigid waters. Others were pulled from the plane as it filled with water.
US Airways Flight 1549 departed from New York City and was headed to Charlotte, N.C.
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the flight had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport when the crash happened in the river adjacent to 48th Street in midtown Manhattan.
Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said the pilot reported a "double bird strike" about 30 to 45 seconds after a normal takeoff and was headed for an emergency landing in New Jersey when he ditched the plane in the river.
The FAA's Brown said the plane appeared to have hit one or more birds, but the US Airways CEO refused to speculate on the cause of the crash.
"It's premature to speculate about the cause of this accident. We would ask that you also resist the temptation to speculate," Parker said.
He said the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent U.S. government agency, will be investigating the crash.
The plane sank slowly as it drifted downriver. Gradually, the fuselage went under until about half of the tail fin and rudder was above water. A Fire Department boat tugged the plane to the southern tip of Manhattan and docked it there.
'Big white splash'
One of the survivors, Jeff Kolodjay, told reporters it was a "hell of a landing" but commended the pilot for a job well done.
Kolodjay described the escape as initially chaotic, but then passengers began scrambling out the door on to the wing in a "kind of orderly" fashion as the aircraft filled with water.
He also said a woman's leg "got cut off" in the crash, but there was no confirmation of such an injury occurring.
Ben Von Klemper, who witnessed the crash from his office in a highrise on 48th Street and Broadway, told CBC News it was extraordinary to watch the plane gradually glide toward the waters.
"I really just happened to be looking west across the Hudson River towards New Jersey when I saw a plane come into view heading south along the [river]," Von Klemper said.
He said it was flying in a very gradual angle towards the water.
"Then eventually it just hit the water and it made a big white splash coming out of the river, probably, I don't know, at least 20 or 30 feet [about seven to nine metres] in the air."
Homeland Security and FBI officials said there was no indication that terrorists were behind the crash.
Joe Mazzone, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot, said it is not unusual for birds to strike planes. In fact, he said, when planes get ready to take off, if there are birds in the area, the tower will alert the crew.
"They literally just choke out the engine and it quits," Mazzone said.
Bird strikes have been reported in two aviation safety investigations in Canada since 1993, according to the Transportation Safety Board.
In June 1994, one person was injured when a Wisconsin Aviation Cessna Conquest crashed on takeoff from the airport at Fort Frances, Ont., after a bird struck an engine and caused a loss of directional control.
In May 2000, an Air Canada DC-9 departing from Edmonton on a flight to Winnipeg lost power to an engine after a bird strike, forcing the pilots to abort takeoff. The plane came to rest about 100 metres off the end of the runway, but none of the 82 passengers or five crew members was injured.
The Cessna Conquest that crashed at the airport in Fort Frances, Ont., in June 1994 was not an Air Canada plane, as first reported. It was a Wisconsin Aviation aircraft.Jan 15, 2008 9:00 AM ET