A US Airways jetliner crashed into the frigid Hudson River on Thursday afternoon after both engines were disabled, sending more than 150 passengers and crew members scrambling onto rescue boats.
Early reports were that the plane collided with a flock of birds, but the FAA has not confirmed that was the cause of the accident.
After boats rushed to the rescue, the Federal Aviation Administration said that all passengers on US Airways Flight 1549 were off the plane and safe.
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the flight had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport en route to Charlotte, North Carolina, when the crash occurred in the river near 48th Street in New York City.
The plane, an Airbus 320, took off at 3:26 p.m. and went down minutes later, Brown said.
“There were eyewitness reports the plane may have flown into a flock of birds,” Brown said. She added, “right now we don’t have any indication this was anything other than an accident.”
A passenger who identified himself as Jeff told NBC News the engines blew about 3 minutes into the flight. “Fire started blowing up,” he said. “I thought we would be able to circle around, but the captain said ‘brace for impact.’ … I think the captain did a helluva job.”
The plane was submerged in the icy waters up to the windows. Rescue crews opened the door and pulled passengers in yellow life vests from the plane. Rescue boats and commuter ferry boats that ply the Hudson surrounded the plane, which appeared to be slowly sinking in the near-freezing water. The temperature was around 20 degrees (minus 6.7 Celsius).
Witnesses said the plane’s pilot appeared to guide the plane down.
“I see a commercial airliner coming down, looking like it’s landing right in the water,” said Bob Read, who saw it from his office at the television newsmagazine “Inside Edition.” “This looked like a controlled descent.”
New York City firefighters and the Coast Guard worked to rescue the passengers. The fuselage appeared intact, and the plane appeared to be sitting high in the water well after the crash with rescuers standing on the wings once they reached the site.
Joe Mazzone, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot, said it is not unusual for birds to strike planes. In fact, he said, when planes get ready to take off, if there are birds in the area, the tower will alert the crew.
“They literally just choke out the engine and it quits,” Mazzone said.
Government officials do not believe the crash is related to terrorism.
“There is no information at this time to indicate that this is a security-related incident,” Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner said. “We continue to closely monitor the situation which at present is focused on search and rescue.”
“The plane flew through a flock of birds and both engines were damaged. That’s all we know right now,” said Dave Steyer, a technician with the wildlife research office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which helps the FAA study what it calls bird strikes.
Worldwide since 1960, crashes of more than 25 large aircraft were caused by bird strikes, according to a published study by Richard Dolbeer, a retired ornithologist with the Department of Agriculture at the Wildlife Services in Sandusky, Ohio. In 23 of these incidents, the strike occurred below 400 feet.
In the U.S., the FAA tracked more than 38,000 bird strikes from 1990 to 2004, according to a study by Dolbeer. He used data from the FAA’s National Wildlife Strike Database for Civil
Aviation. He concluded that management of birds should focus on the airport environment.
Individuals who believe they may have family members on board flight 1549 may call US Airways at 1-800-679-8215 within the United States.
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