73° Good Evening
73° Good Evening

Miracle on the Hudson: Minute by minute

A look back at Sully, Flight 1549 and the "Miracle on the Hudson," 10 years later.

The landing would go down in history. "Sully" became a household name. In fact, many of the people involved would be immortalized in news coverage and later in books and movies. 

That's the legacy of the "Miracle on the Hudson" — the emergency landing of a US Airways flight after a bird strike took out both engines shortly after takeoff at LaGuardia Airport. 

Ten years later, here's a look back at how the incident played out: 

Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009 

3:24:54 p.m.: US Airways Flight 1549 is cleared for takeoff from Runway 4 at LaGuardia Airport with 155 people on board, headed for Charlotte, North Carolina.

3:25:51: Pilot, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, tells the departure controller he is at 700 feet and climbing to 5,000. He is instructed to climb to 15,000.

3:27:01: Radar shows the plane intersects "primary targets" — probably a flock of birds — while climbing between 2,900 and 3,000 feet. The objects had not been on the departure controller's radar screen. 

"There was a sudden jerk, it felt like turbulence," passenger William Zuhoski of Cutchogue told Newsday that day. "No one thought anything of it until we started to go down."

"The left engine just blew," said passenger Jeff Kolodjay, of Norwalk, Connecticut. "I was looking right at it because I was right there."

3:27:32: Sullenberger reports to air traffic control: "Aaah, this is Cactus 1549. We hit birds. We lost thrust in both engines. We're turning back towards LaGuardia."

3:27:49: Controllers advise LaGuardia to stop departures. Tower officials are told there was a bird strike.

3:28:05: When asked if he wants to land at LaGuardia, Sullenberger responds, "We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson." Communication follows over whether the plane can land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, but the pilot says, "We can't do it. ... We're gonna be in the Hudson." End verbal communication with the plane.

"We thought we were going to circle around," Kolodjay said, "but we didn't have time. The captain said, 'Brace for impact because we're going down.'"

3:30:30: The plane touches down in the water.

"We hit the water pretty hard," Kolodjay said. "It was intense. It was intense. You've got to give it to the pilot. He made a hell of a landing."

Radar and tower personnel notify the Coast Guard, which responds, "We launched the fleet."

"It looked like any other landing of a plane, except that it was on the water," eyewitness Ben Vonklemperer told Newsday that day. "If you want to land a plane on the water, this is exactly how to do it."

Shortly thereafter 

As the jet slowly takes on water and starts to sink, passengers start to escape the plane, mostly through mid-plane doors on either side of the fuselage, some through the front. Rear exit doors do not open.

"People rushed to the back of the plane," Zuhoski said. "I thought I was going to drown back there. For a second I thought I was just going to die."

Flight attendants tell passengers, "Leave everything. Come forward. Put your life vests on."

The Coast Guard estimated that the water temperature was just 36 degrees. 

A commuter ferry, the Thomas Jefferson of the company NY Waterway, arrived within minutes of the crash, and some of its own riders grabbed life vests and lines of rope and tossed them to plane passengers in the water. 

"They were cheering when we pulled up," ferry captain Vincent Lombardi said. "We had to pull an elderly woman out of a raft in a sling. She was crying. ... People were panicking. They said, 'Hurry up, hurry up.' We gave them the jackets off our backs."

All 155 passengers were saved.

Sullenberger walked through the now-empty aircraft twice before leaving the plane himself.

Paramedics said they treated at least 78 people that day, some for hypothermia, fire officials said. One victim suffered two broken legs, a paramedic said, but there were no other reports of serious injuries.

"The pilot, he's the hero," said passenger Dave Sanderson of Charlotte. "The grace of God got me off that plane."


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More news