Hudson landing underscores need for vigilance: pilot

The pilot responsible for guiding an ailing U.S. Airways flight into a safe landing on New York's Hudson river in January said Tuesday that one of the main challenges pilots face is to remain alert and vigilant and maintained that splashing down onto the river was the only viable option he had.

Transcript of cockpit recorder captures pilots remarking on view

In a transcript released Tuesday, the two men piloting US Airways Flight 1549 on Jan. 15 are heard remarking on the view of the Hudson River. ((Ramin Talaie/Getty Images))
The pilot responsible for guiding a damaged US Airways plane into a safe landing on New York's Hudson river in January said Tuesday that one of the main challenges pilots face is to remain alert and vigilant and maintained that splashing down in the river was the only viable option he had.

Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger testified at a hearing convened in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board that aims to delve into the forced landing of US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson.

"One of the problems of our profession is it's so ultra-safe. It's sometimes easy to forget what's at stake," Sullenberger told the NTSB hearing, adding that major airline accidents are rare.

"One of the challenges is to remain alert and vigilant and prepared."

His flight had just departed from LaGuardia Airport on Jan.15 en route to Charlotte, N.C., when Sullenberger reported a "double bird strike" about six minutes after takeoff. He reported losing thrust in both engines and said he immediately began to take action.

Sullenberger, 58, steered the jet toward the river and slowly brought it down on the water, rather than crashing in the densely-populated city. All 155 people on board survived.

Robert Sumwalt, a member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board who will chair the three-day hearing, said the accident has made safety officials, the aviation industry and the public more aware of the growing likelihood of bird-plane collisions.

Birds 'filled the windscreen'

In a transcript released Tuesday of the cockpit recording just after the plane took off, Sullenberger remarks to co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles, "Uh, what a view of the Hudson today."

Skiles responded: "Yeah"

Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, is sworn in on Tuesday prior to testifying before a National Transportation Safety Board hearing in Washington. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)
Less than a minute later, Sullenberger says, "birds." Skiles says, "Whoa," and thumping can be heard.

Sullenberger said he had experienced many bird strikes before, all of them minor ones that caused no substantial damage. He contrasted that experience to running into the swarm of large Canada geese the day of the flight. There were so many birds that they "filled the windscreen," Sullenberger said.

As the plane lost altitude, it became increasingly clear that it might not have made it to a runway at LaGuardia, he said.

After evaluating the situation, he said turning towards LaGuardia would not be a realistic choice.

"I couldn't afford to be wrong," he said.

"Once I turned toward LaGuardia it would have been an irrevocable choice eliminating all other options. I had to make sure I could make it [to the airport] before I chose that option. I decided I couldn't.

"The only option remaining in the metropolitan area that was long enough, wide enough and smooth enough to land was the Hudson River," he said.

New radar testing

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is testing bird-detecting radar that may help airports manage nearby bird populations.

Some experts have also suggested aircraft engines should be designed to withstand bigger birds. Newer engines on commercial airliners have to withstand an eight-pound bird, but Canada geese can weigh twice that.

"You could probably build an aircraft engine that could withstand a 20-pound bird with today's technology, but that engine will never fly" because it will be too heavy, Sumwalt said.

"We can't do a whole lot more to beef up the aircraft to withstand birds."

Experience pays

There was no one determining factor that led to the successful landing, Sullenberger said.

He credited annual training provided by US Airways — which involves both classroom and flight simulator exercises — as helping him to land the plane.

But he noted that he did not receive training on how to ditch an aircraft if both engines weren't running. He added he wasn't sure if such a scenario could be recreated in a flight simulator.

As he has done repeatedly in the past, Sullenberger praised his "highly experienced and well-trained crew" for their role in overseeing the landing.

He said after the birds hit, he and Skiles had to "work almost intuitively without having time to verbalize."

His experience in flying — Sullenberger has logged 20,000 flight hours — allowed him to "focus clearly on the highest priorities of every stage of the flight without consulting written guidelines," he said.

Earlier in February, Sullenberger told a U.S. congressional aviation committee the "untenable financial situation" for pilots and their families leaves him "worried about the future of the profession."

Sullenberger, who was hailed as a hero for his calm actions on Jan. 15, warned of "negative consequences" to the safety of the industry without experienced pilots, who have been forced to accept massive salary and pension cuts from airline companies focused on trimming costs.


With files from The Associated Press