August 5, 2009
US Airways Flight 1549 Crew Receives ALPA’s
Distinguished Crew Safety Award
Sullenberger, Skiles, Dail, Dent, Welsh, Harter, and Alter Honored for Outstanding Professionalism During “Miracle on the Hudson”
WASHINGTON—The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), will recognize the crew of US Airways Flight 1549 with its first-ever Distinguished Crew Safety Award in recognition of their heroic acts in conducting an emergency landing of their crippled Airbus A320 in the Hudson River and safely evacuating all 155 passengers from the sinking jetliner. The award will be presented on August 6 at ALPA’s 55th Air Safety Week Awards Banquet in Washington, D.C.
“The actions of this crew will be remembered in the annals of aviation history,” said Capt. John Prater, ALPA’s president. “Faced with a number of split-second, life-or-death decisions, the pilots, including the pilot who was jumpseating, and cabin crew of Flight 1549 worked as a team and literally did everything right, proving that there is no substitute for experience, training, and skill when disaster strikes.”
US Airways Flight 1549, A320 service from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, N.C., took off from LaGuardia’s Runway 4 at 3:25 p.m. on the afternoon of Jan. 15, 2009. First Officer Jeffrey Skiles was the pilot flying; Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was the pilot monitoring. Behind the cockpit door were 150 passengers and flight attendants Sheila Dail, Donna Dent, and Doreen Welsh.
After an uneventful takeoff, the airplane struck a flock of migrating Canada geese at 3,200 feet. Crippled by the bird strikes, both engines immediately lost almost all thrust. Passengers and the flight attendants later reported hearing very loud bangs in both engines and seeing flaming exhaust; then the engines became silent, and the smell of unburned fuel entered the cabin.
As Capt. Sullenberger took the controls, First Officer Skiles—on his first trip in the A320 since training in the type—began going through the three-page emergency procedures checklist to try to restart the engines.
Capt. Sullenberger declared an emergency to air traffic control, using the international distress signal: “Mayday, mayday, mayday. Cactus fifteen forty nine hit birds. We’ve lost thrust in both engines. We’re turning back toward LaGuardia.”
The controller gave the pilots a heading to return to LaGuardia and said they could land on Runway 13; Capt. Sullenberger replied, “Unable.” Air traffic controllers quickly contacted Teterboro Airport in Bergen County and got a clearance for the stricken airliner to land on the reliever airport’s Runway 1. Capt. Sullenberger’s chilling response: “We can’t do it. . . . We’re gonna be in the Hudson.”
Gliding earthward, the A320 passed over the George Washington Bridge, which connects Manhattan with New Jersey, at less than 900 feet. About 90 seconds before splashdown, Capt. Sullenberger warned the passengers and flight crew to brace for impact, and the flight attendants instructed the passengers how to do so.
Just six minutes after takeoff, Capt. Sullenberger made a textbook-perfect unpowered ditching in the Hudson River at about 130 knots, or 150 miles per hour. He intentionally chose to ditch the aircraft near the New York–New Jersey ferry terminals to maximize the chance of rescue.
In what has since been called the “Miracle on the Hudson,” all 155 occupants of the A320 safely evacuated the virtually intact but slowly sinking airliner and were quickly rescued by nearby boats. Flight attendants Dail, Dent, and Welsh did an outstanding job of getting the passengers—including one in a wheelchair—out of the single-aisle airliner, despite the fact that the airplane’s impact with the water had ripped a hole in the airplane’s belly and twisted the fuselage, causing cargo doors to pop open and flooding the cabin with water from the rear. F/O Derek Alter, a pilot who was jumpseating home after flying his own trips, sprang into action assisting the crew with the evacuation and even giving a freezing passenger the shirt off his back.
Capt. Sullenberger was the last person to leave the airplane—which he did only after walking the length of the cabin twice to confirm that no one remained inside. Seventy-eight people from Flight 1549 were treated at area hospitals, mostly for minor injuries and hypothermia.
Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, First Officer Jeff Skiles, Flight Attendants Sheila Dail, Donna Dent, and Doreen Welsh, Air Traffic Controller Patrick Harten, and First Officer Derek Alter, who was flying as a passenger, will all receive ALPA’s Distinguished Crew Safety Award.
“Capt. Sullenberger, First Officer Skiles, Flight Attendants Dail, Dent, and Welsh, Air Traffic Controller Harter, and First Officer Alter are heroes in the highest and best sense of the word. The ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ was only possible because a group of dedicated professionals did their jobs on an ordinary day that suddenly required extraordinary action,” Prater concluded.
Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilots union, representing nearly 54,000 pilots at 36 airlines in the United States and Canada.
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