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NTSB: Lessons learned from "Miracle on the Hudson"

U.S. Airways pilot Chesley Burnett

U.S. Airways pilot Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger III successfully carried out the emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. (January 15, 2009) Credit: AP

Although the "Miracle on the Hudson" had a happy ending, there are still plenty of lessons to be learned from the January 2009 emergency landing, federal officials said as they concluded their 15-month probe of the incident Tuesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board met to formally determine what caused US Airways Flight 1549 to lose power, and to issue 35 formal safety recommendations stemming from the close call.

Not surprisingly, the board found the cause of the incident was the "ingestion of large birds into each engine" of the Airbus 320 plane.

With little time to react, flight captain Chesley Sullenberger chose to bring the plane down from an altitude of 3,000 feet into the Hudson River.

A report issued Monday by Airbus said it was "technically feasible" Sullenberger could have safely returned and landed at LaGuardia, where he took off. However, the NTSB confirmed the decision to "ditch" the plane in the river "provided the highest probability that the accident would be survivable."

The panel added that, even after the plane safely landed, its passengers still faced the danger of "cold shock" from the freezing Hudson waters that could have resulted in them "drowning in as little as five minutes." Special safety equipment on the plane may have saved several passengers' lives, the NTSB said.

"Once the birds and the airplane collided and the accident became inevitable, so many things went right," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. "This is a great example of the professionalism of the crew members, air traffic controllers and emergency responders who all played a role in preserving the safety of everyone aboard."

The 35 recommendations adopted by the panel included more thorough testing of engines' ability to withstand bird strikes and changes to "aircraft certification standards, checklist design, flight crew training, airport wildlife mitigation, cabin safety equipment, and preflight passenger briefings."

The NTSB noted that, after the incident, most of the passengers said they did not pay attention to the preflight safety instructions. And so the board recommended the Federal Aviation Administration look for "creative and effective methods of overcoming passengers' inattention."

FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the agency will "review and study" the recommendations to "see how we could move forward with their suggestions."

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