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A statistically unlikely but beneficial event


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I was astonished when I read that this was apparently the first time in fifty years of commericial aviation that a plane has survived a water landing without a single fatality.


It almost brings me to tears to think there are people out there like the Captain Sullenberger who can perform with such skill and who can remain so calm and rational under so much pressure.


He is an inspiration to me.



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A miracle on the Hudson River was witnessed on Thursday in NY /NJ. A disaster happens when a succession of things go wrong, but the emergency water landing of a Airbus A320 was a succession of everything that went right! Ferry operators, emergency rescue personnel, flight crew and last, but not least, Capt. Sullenberger all need to be recognized. The statistic that floored me was that some passengers went back to LaGuardia to get on other planes.

God Bless & godspeed "Sully", wish there were more of you.

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What does your post have to do with the OP? In addition, you are bringing up a political point which has no place in the Lounge.


As for "Sully",as he is known to friends, I think the guy should get the Congressional Medal of Honor. It's people like him that make things work, even under the direst of circumstances.


Another pilot in the same mould was the one who brought an Air Canada jet down in Gimli, Manitoba several decades ago after it had lost all power. He landed his 747 on an abandoned airstrip hundreds of miles away that was being used that day as a go-cart track. He remembered the existence of that old air force base himself with no help from air traffic control. I believe he did get some recognition from the government of Canada. The same should be extended to Sully.

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The excitement this story has generated has a lot to do with all the negative news recently in which American individuals and systems have repeatedly failed. It's the display of true competence--by the pilot, crew, emergency personnel, etc.--that gives us hope that the country will survive its own "crash."

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>I was astonished when I read that this was apparently the

>first time in fifty years of commericial aviation that a plane

>has survived a water landing without a single fatality.


The WSJ said that, but they seem to be neglecting a

few incidents from the past 50 years.


An Aeroflot flight landed in the Neva River in 1963,

and all 52 people on board survived.


A Japan Airlines flight landed in the bay short of the

runway at San Francisco in 1968, and all 107 people

on board survived. Unlike the UsAir and Aeroflot

flights, though, this was not an intentional water

landing but rather a mistake.


More info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_landing

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The Congressional Medal of Honor can only be awarded to people in the US military or who were in the military at the time of the heroic deed. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the USA's second highest award could be awarded to this civilian US Air captain.


The captain did an outstanding job as did the rest of the crew and the passengers deserve praise also. Apparently no one said, me first, and they all went out the emergency exit in a more or less orderly fashion. Good on them.


I am not so sure the controllers involved did such an exemplary job. There is at least one report of one telling the US Air flight he couldn't come back to LaGuardia. That, of course, would be nonsense. The crew is flying the aircraft, not the controller. Any controller's job is to get aircraft and any other obstacles out of the way for an aircraft with an emergency. Time will tell what really happened on this score.


It has been said that there has never been a successful ditching on the open ocean by a jet airliner, successful meaning with no loss of life. That may well still be true.


I don't mean to neglect praising the folks in boats on the river. Their crews and passengers contributed in large measure to the successful rescuing of the airline passengers. From the standpoint of day time, a busy river and helpful people standing by, so to speak, it couldn't have been a better situation. Probably there are few vounteers to see if they can repeat.


Someone remarked upon the passengers getting back on an airliner and going home right afterwards. What should they do? Give up flying? Not to be silly but you have all heard the line about if a horse throws you, get right back on the horse and ride or you will be afraid forever. Obviously their number was not up which they had just proved the hard way. Flying on US airlines is the safest way to fly and very safe compared to other forms of transporation. Giving up flying would be a terrible price to pay for having just survived an accident such as this.


Not to regress to a sullied subject these days but the underwriters should be grateful to the captain and crew also. They will be paying for a multi-million dollar aircraft but will not be paying 75 million or so to any surviving families to say nothing of sparing those families the grief and agony of losing loved ones.


Good job all around and my hat is off to all of them.


Best regards,



L2P--It was a 767 which is a large twin engine airliner, not a 747 which is a large 4 engine airliner. That doesn't take away from getting it down in one piece. :)

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Guest zipperzone

>Another pilot in the same mould was the one who brought an Air

>Canada jet down in Gimli, Manitoba several decades ago after

>it had lost all power. He landed his 747 on an abandoned

>airstrip hundreds of miles away that was being used that day

>as a go-cart track. He remembered the existence of that old

>air force base himself with no help from air traffic control.

>I believe he did get some recognition from the government of

>Canada. The same should be extended to Sully.


I believe the year was 1983 and the reason for the emergency landing was that the plane ran completely out of fuel due to several reasons. The then recent switch to metric was partly to blame. A switch which IMHO should never have taken place.


I could be wrong but I seem to recall that the captain was censured for his part in the disaster. Perhaps he was also later praised but I don't think he was held completely blameless.

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Your memory is good, Zip. I hope every thing else is working as well. :)


The good news is he landed the aircraft in one piece at an abandoned military field; the bad news is he had no excuse for running out of fuel.


I also agree with your opinion of changing to the metric system. I can deal with it but I grew up on the US system of inches, feet, pounds,gallons, etc. Didn't the Canadians at one time use the Imperial Gallon?


In the spirit of one world government and everyone being the same, etc., the US has adopted what some call the Frog system of weather reporting for aviation. Somehow 99% of the world's flights limped along on the old system but now we use a modified system of metars, octas and other strange names but retain feet for the visibility down the runway (called RVR) and for cloud bases, tops and cruising altitudes. The one constant about aviation is that it is always changing.


Best regards,


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I will have to look into the Gimli incident further;I was just going by memory in recounting it here. But your comments provoked another memory which I have confirmed. That concerns the NASA Mars orbitor that was lost, at a cost of $125million in 1999, because of the mixup between metric and English measure.


If all the resources of NASA could not prevent this in 1999, I would hardly fault a pilot in 1983 (if that was when it happened) of a commercial airliner who is hardly a NASA engineer or team for that matter. In any case, given that a mistake was made, he recovered from it magnificently and prevented a huge tragedy. I always like happy endings. :)

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  • 11 months later...

Old subject, but just found this illuminating & moving interview with Sully, by an industry-insider rag. Nice change of pace from Katie C-style 'Did you pray?' insipidness.


Air & Space Interview: Sully


Air & Space: I heard you say in one of your interviews that it was comforting to you to hear the flight attendants, after you announced “Brace for impact,” also directing the passengers to brace and put their heads down. Why was that a source of comfort?


Sullenberger: I felt they were assisting me in that moment. Even though we were intensely focused and very busy, I remember thinking that as soon as I made the public address announcement in the cabin, within a second or two, I heard even through the hardened cockpit door the flight attendants in unison shouting their commands. “Heads down. Stay down.” And it was comforting to me to know that they were on the same page, that we were all acting in concert. It made me feel that my hope and my confidence in completing this plan was reasonable and that they knew what needed to be done and were doing their part.


Air & Space: Is it standard procedure for the captain to go back through the cabin after an emergency like yours?


Sullenberger: I felt that as more of a personal responsibility than a procedural responsibility—which it may be. But I had the time, the aircraft was stable, and I was not concerned that it would suddenly sink. And so I could leave absolutely no possibility of anyone being left behind. I made a thorough search, calling out, “Is anyone there?” to make sure the evacuation was complete, and it was.


Air & Space: You made the decision to ditch within one minute of losing power in the engines. Is that correct?


Sullenberger: You may know better than I. I have not seen an official timeline, or official data of any kind from the investigators. All I have seen is what’s been reported in the press—based upon the daily press briefings given by the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] during the initial phase. I knew it had to be done quickly.


Air & Space: Before you made that decision, you’d briefly considered returning to LaGuardia. You’d considered diverting to Teterboro [New Jersey]. Was there a discussion between you and your first officer about the distances you could glide or the amount of energy you might sacrifice if you had to head to either of those airports?


Sullenberger: I haven’t listened to the cockpit voice recorder yet. At some point before the NTSB public hearing in a few months, I will have to do that. Until then, I’m not sure. I would characterize the cockpit as being busy, businesslike, and our cooperation was done largely by observing the other and not communicating directly because of the extreme time pressure. [First officer] Jeff [skiles] and I worked together seamlessly and very efficiently, very quickly, without directly verbalizing a lot of issues. We were observing the same things, we had the same perceptions, and it was clear to me that he was hearing what I was saying to Air Traffic Control on the radio. He was observing my actions, and I was observing his, and it was immediately obvious to me that his understanding of the situation was the same as mine, and that he was quickly and efficiently taking the steps to do his part.


Air & Space: What is the role of the first officer in that situation?


Sullenberger: This was not a typical case. Because of the extraordinarily difficult nature of the situation and because of the extreme time pressure, we both had to take on different roles than what typically would be done according to protocol. Most of the training that we get is for a situation where you have more time to deal with things. You have time to be more thoughtful, to analyze the situation. Typically what’s done these days is for the first officer to be the pilot flying and for the captain to be the pilot monitoring, analyzing and managing the situation. There wasn’t time for that.


I felt that even though Jeff was very experienced—he turns out to have had as much total flying experience as I do—and even though he’d been a captain before on another airplane at my airline and had been at the company 23 years, he was relatively new on this particular aircraft type [Airbus A320]. In fact, this was his first trip after having completed training on it. He’d been through the simulator and the ground school and had been on a four-day trip with an instructor, but this was his first trip to fly. So I decided early on that we were best served by me using my greater experience in the [A320] to fly the airplane.


Additionally, I felt like I had a clear view out the left-hand and forward windows of all the important landmarks that I needed to consider. They were on my side. They would be easier for me to see. And ultimately the choice of where we would go and what flight path we would take would be mine.


I also thought that since it had been almost a year since I had been through our annual pilot recurrent training, and Jeff had just completed it—he had just been in the simulator using all the emergency checklists—he was probably better suited to quickly knowing exactly which checklist would be most appropriate, and quickly finding it in this big mutlipage quick reference handbook that we carry in the cockpit. So I felt it was like the best of both worlds. I could use my experience, I could look out the window and make a decision about where we were going to go, while he was continuing his effort to restart the engines and hoping that we wouldn’t have to land some place other than a runway. He was valiantly trying until the last moment to get the engines started again.


Air & Space: Were you calculating the distance you could glide?


Sullenberger: It wasn’t so much calculating as it was being acutely aware, based upon our energy state and by visually assessing the situation, of what was and what was not possible. There are several ways I used my experience to do that. I knew the altitude and airspeed were relatively low, so our total energy available was not great. I also knew we were headed away from LaGuardia, and I knew that to return to LaGuardia I would have to take into account the distance and the altitude necessary to make the turn back.


In the case of Teterboro, I knew that was even farther away, even though we were headed in that direction. The short answer is, based on my experience and looking out the window, I could tell by the altitude and the descent rate that neither [airport] was a viable option. I also thought that I could not afford to choose wrongly. I could not afford to attempt to make it to a runway that in fact I could not make. Landing short, even by a little bit, can have catastrophic consequences not only for everybody on the airplane but for people on the ground.


Air & Space: What was your speed when you lost the engines?


Sullenberger: Again, I would hate to guess. I have not seen the data. It was less than 250 knots the entire time. And I think once the thrust loss occurred, our speed began to decay very rapidly because the nose was still up in a climb attitude, but without climb thrust on the airplane. It required a substantial but smooth push to get the nose down to attain and maintain our best lift-over-drag airspeed.


Air & Space: So that was your first move: to get the nose down.


Sullenberger: Yes.


Air & Space: When you’re in this situation are you just trying to make it go as far as you can?


Sullenberger: My initial focus was to fly at the proper speed while we were assessing the situation. We needed our best lift-over-drag airspeed while we were trying to decide where we could go. Once we had considered and ruled out both LaGuardia and Teterboro as unattainable, then we flew that same speed down to a lower altitude where we began to slow so that we could put out flaps for landing.


Air & Space: How did you slow down? Were you using control surfaces?


Sullenberger: No. We slowed by raising the nose. Our descent rate was more rapid than usual because we had essentially no thrust. So in order to maintain a safe flying speed, we had to have the nose far enough down that we could hold that speed as we descended. Of course that resulted in a higher-than-normal rate of descent.


Air & Space: Did you flash back on any of your experiences as a glider pilot? Did it feel natural to you?


Sullenberger: Actually not very much after the bird strike felt very natural, but the glide was comfortable. Once we had established our plan, once we knew our only viable option was to land in the river, we knew we could make the landing. But a lot of things yet had to go right.


I get asked that question about my gliding experience a lot, but that was so long ago, and those [gliders] are so different from a modern jet airliner, I think the transfer [of experience] was not large. There are more recent experiences I’ve had that played a greater role.


One of the big differences in flying heavy jets versus flying lighter, smaller aircraft is energy management—always knowing at any part of the flight what the most desirable flight path is, then trying to attain that in an elegant way with the minimum thrust, so that you never are too high or too low or too fast or too slow. I’ve always paid attention to that, and I think that more than anything else helped me.


...continues at: http://www.airspacemag.com/flight-today/Sullys-Tale.html


P.S. I truncated this because, I just discovered, the forum sw sets a 10,000-word limit on posts. Who'd a thunk it?

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