NEW YORK (Reuters) - Passengers from the US Airways plane that crash-landed in New York's Hudson River huddled on the wings in freezing air while those in the icy water went limp from the cold and would not have survived more than a few minutes, rescuers said.
None of the 155 people on board were seriously injured, officials said, despite the frigid conditions and the river's swift current. But many were panicked and frightened as they were pulled from the wrecked plane, said local ferry crews and police divers who were first on the scene.
The US Airways flight 1549, with 150 passengers and five crew, were aboard the Airbus A320, bound for Charlotte, North Carolina from New York's LaGuardia Airport. The pilot made an emergency landing in the river just minutes after take off.
Many passengers climbed out onto the wrecked plane's wings, while some clambered into an inflated rescue raft and others floundered in the water, said Wilfredo Rivera, a ferryboat deckhand who helped pull dozens of passengers to safety.
"Everyone was nervous. Everybody was screaming. Everyone was in shock," Rivera said.
Two New York Police Department divers who dove from helicopters to rescue distraught passengers said the river's temperature was at its coldest of the winter, at about 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
The passengers in the water would not have survived for more than five or ten minutes, said Detective Michael Delaney, one of the divers. They were weak and lethargic from the chill and could not pull themselves out, he said.
"Their extremities were frozen cold," he said, adding of one woman, "She was just pretty much limp at that time."
The air temperature was around 20 F, or minus 6 C, on a day that saw heavy snow storms in the morning.
One frantic woman was clinging to the side of a ferry boat but could not hold on, Delaney said.
"She said, 'Please don't let me go,'" he said.
Vince Lombardi, a ferryboat captain with NY Waterway which operates service on the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey said passengers voiced their relief when he steered his boat in to help with the rescue.
"They were cheering when we pulled up," he said. "There were a lot of scared people."
Javier Soto, a passenger on a ferry on the way from Manhattan to New Jersey, described how people on the boat pitched in to help.
"There were people standing on the wing. They were all afraid to take the dive," he said. "We grabbed as many as we could."
Another ferry captain, Juan Rosario, said he saw the plane go down in what he called a smooth landing.
"It was going down slow. It looked like he was doing a good job of it," he said. "It was a nice descent. It went right in."
Then, he said, "You heard a big splash."
Editing by Chris Wilson