NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger knew his US Airways jetliner was in trouble the moment it hit birds, and with both engines damaged, made a quick decision to attempt a dangerous landing in New York City’s Hudson River.
“I needed the wings exactly level at touchdown. I needed to make the rate of descent survivable. I needed to touch down at a nose-up attitude. And I needed to touch down just above our minimum flying speed. And all those needed to occur simultaneously,” Sullenberger told reporters on Monday.
Sullenberger related his experiences as Mayor Michael Bloomberg honored Flight 1549’s crew with ceremonial keys to the city for their emergency landing on January 15, in which all 155 people on board survived.
The former U.S. Air Force pilot’s grace under pressure has made him an American hero at a time when the faltering economy and massive job losses have wounded the nation’s psyche.
Shortly after takeoff, Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles saw nothing but birds through their windshield and some of them were sucked into the engines.
“I knew from the sound that the engines were making and from the vibration I felt and from the smell of the birds going through the system, I knew that we had damaged both engines severely,” Sullenberger said in his first news conference, which followed a pair of network television interview.
Both engines lost thrust, which ruled out safely returning to LaGuardia airport or reaching another airport. Voice recordings from the cockpit reveal Sullenberger quickly decided to land in the river, and he splashed down in view of Times Square office towers.
The landing went smoothly for those in the front but was jarring in the back, where flight attendant Doreen Welsh was seriously injured with a deep gash in her leg.
Welsh said one panicked passenger opened a rear door against her instructions, which let water in. Passengers evacuated through the front and over the wings and were rescued by ferry boats and emergency rescue teams.
Most of the crew were eager to fly again but Welsh said she has not been able to wear her uniform yet and did not know if she would return to work.
“I’ve been flying 38 years and I’ve been doing this since I was 19 and ... I honestly don’t know. I’m taking it day by day,” she said.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jackie Frank
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