Emergency Landing

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Miracle on the Hudson



On January 15, 2009, air traffic controller Patrick Harten arrived at work as usual at 12:30. As part of his job, he was responsible for all the airplanes leaving LaGuardia Airport in New York.

At 3:25 pm an aircraft US Airways Flight 1549 took off headed to Charlotte Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. Harten instructed the pilot, Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, to climb to 15,000 feet, addressing the plane on the radio using the call sign “Cactus 1549”. At 3:27 p.m, about three minutes into the flight, the pilot informed Harten that he was in trouble. The plane had struck a flock of geese during its initial climb out from LaGuardia. The bird strike caused both jet engines to quickly lose power. 

Captain Sullenberger, told Harten he needed to return to LaGuardia Airport immediately to make an emergency landing. Harten instructed LaGuardia tower to hold all waiting departures on the ground and made a quick decision to offer Captain Sullenberger Runway 13, which was the closest runway.  Sullenberger responded that he was “unable” to do so.

Harten Quickly asked the pilot where he could land safely. The pilot told him that he could not turn back to LaGuardia and asked if they could attempt an emergency landing in New Jersey, mentioning Teterboro Airport as a possibility. Harten quickly contacted Teterboro and gained permission for a landing on Runway 1.

However, Sullenberger told Harten that “We can’t do it”. Harten asked “Which runway would you like at Teterboro?” Sullenberger replied “We’re gonna be in the Hudson”, making clear his intention to bring the plane down on the Hudson River due to a lack of altitude. Harten knew that people don’t survive landings in the Hudson River. “I believed at that moment I was going to be the last person to talk to anyone on that plane alive”, Harten later said. Then Harten lost contact with “Cactus 1549”.

Sullenberger turned the plane southbound and glided over the Hudson, finally made an unpowered emergency water landing in the Hudson River, off midtown Manhattan, about three minutes after losing power.

Air traffic control at LaGuardia reported seeing the aircraft pass less than 900 feet (270 m) above the George Washington Bridge. About 90 seconds before touchdown, the captain announced, “brace for impact”, and the flight attendants instructed the passengers how to do so.


The plane started filling with the freezing cold water of the Hudson river. All 155 occupants, the passengers and crew, successfully evacuated from the partially submerged airframe as it sank into the freezing cold water of the river. They were rescued by nearby watercraft. Several occupants suffered injuries, a few of them serious, but only one required hospitalization overnight.

The incident came to be known as the “Miracle on the Hudson“, and Captain Sullenberger was soon regarded as a hero by some accounts. The entire crew of Flight 1549 was awarded the Master’s Medal of the “Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators”. The award citations read, “This emergency ditching and evacuation, with the loss of no lives, is a heroic and unique aviation achievement.”




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