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US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger walked the length of his plane twice after landing it on the Hudson River, making sure no one was still on board. ((Safety Reliability Methods/Associated Press))

The pilot who guided a jet to a safe splash landing in the Hudson River off Manhattan on Thursday is garnering accolades from across the United States.

Outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush called Chesley Sullenberger on Friday to offer his effusive praise for saving the lives of 154 other people  aboard the US Airways flight, his spokesperson said.

U.S. senators also paid tribute to the pilot by introducing a motion to praise him, along with all the responders, ferry operators and tug boat drivers who rushed to the slowly sinking plane to pull passengers from it.

New York also feted the pilot and scores of rescuers at a ceremony at City Hall on Friday.

"This is a story of heroes, something straight out of a movie script," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the ceremony. "But if it had been a movie, people probably wouldn't have believed it, it was too good to be true — the perfect landing, the phenomenal response, the rescue of every single person."

US Airways Flight 1549 had just departed from LaGuardia Airport in New York City on Thursday and was headed to Charlotte, N.C., when the pilot reported a "double bird strike" about six minutes after takeoff.

The 57-year-old Sullenberger steered the jet toward the river and slowly brought it down on the water, keeping the fuselage intact.

In the ceremony at City Hall, Bloomberg handed out certificates to about 25 people who helped with the rescue.

He said he was saving a key to the city for the plane's pilot, who was unable to attend because he was still helping with the ongoing investigation.

"His brave actions have inspired millions of people in this city and millions more around the world," Bloomberg said.

Rescuers also spoke at the ceremony about their experiences in pulling people from the frigid water and the plane's wings.

One diver from the New York police department described finding a woman clinging to the side of a ferry boat.

New York Waterways port captain Vincent Lucante described how he and his ferry crew helped pull two wet, shivering babies from an emergency life raft floating near the plane.

"They started to cry, which is the best sound that we could hear, and everybody had smiles," Lucante said.

All of the rescuers at the City Hall ceremony said the overall mood was mostly calm and orderly, with very little chaos or panic.

With files from the Associated Press