Downed Jet Lifted from Ice-Laden Hudson River

By: AP
By: AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- The airliner that was piloted to a safe emergency landing in the Hudson River was hoisted from the ice-laden current and placed on a barge, and its two "black box" data recorders were sent to investigators in Washington.

Emergency workers swarmed around the barge and its battered cargo - moored next to a seawall just a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center site - on Sunday morning as federal aviation investigators met in a downtown hotel.

The aircraft was slowly lifted from the frigid water at the southern tip of Manhattan late Saturday, exposing its shredded underbelly that dropped pieces of metal as a crane maneuvered it in the darkness. There was no immediate announcement where the barge would be taken or when it would be moved.

Although the area was barricaded, the spectacle attracted dozens of Sunday morning strollers and tourists snapping pictures of the wreckage in gently falling snow.

US Airways Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, speaking to National Transportation Safety Board investigators Saturday for the first time, said he made a split-second decision to put the airliner down in the river rather than risk a "catastrophic" crash in a populated area of New York City or New Jersey after a collision with birds shut down both engines.

Police and Coast Guard boats patrolled the water Sunday morning around the barge holding the plane, its damaged right jet engine clearly visible.

Divers still have to find the plane's left engine in the river, but have an idea where to look. A sonar team has identified an object directly below the crash site, upstream between mid-Manhattan and New Jersey, the NTSB said. Investigators initially thought both engines had been shorn off, but divers realized Saturday one was still attached and they had missed it in the murky river water.

The NTSB said radar data confirmed that the aircraft crossed the path of a group of "primary targets," almost certainly birds, as Flight 1549 climbed over the Bronx after taking off from LaGuardia Airport. Those targets had not been on the radar screen of the air traffic controller who approved the departure to Charlotte, N.C., NTSB board member Kitty Higgins said.

Sullenberger recounted seeing his windshield filled with big, dark-brown birds.

"His instinct was to duck," Higgins said, recounting their interview. Then there was a thump, the smell of burning birds, and silence as both aircraft engines cut out.

After the impact, Sullenberger told investigators he immediately took over flying from his co-pilot and decided it would be too dangerous to attempt a landing at the smaller Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.

"We can't do it," he told air traffic controllers. "We're gonna be in the Hudson."

"Brace! Brace! Head down!" the flight attendants shouted to the passengers.

Security cameras on a Manhattan pier captured the Airbus A320 as it descended in a controlled glide, then threw up spray as it slid across the river on its belly.

Two flight attendants likened it to a hard landing - nothing more. There was one impact, no bounce, then a gradual deceleration.

It all happened so fast, the crew never threw the aircraft's "ditch switch," which seals off vents in the fuselage to make it more seaworthy.

Hoisting the water-filled craft, estimated to weigh 1 million pounds, took a few hours Saturday but was preceded by hours of preparation. Divers went into the water to thread five large slings around the plane and through holes they drilled in the wings.

The conditions were treacherous, with the temperature dipping to 6 degrees and giant chunks of ice forming around the plane by midday. Divers were sprayed with hot water during breaks on shore.

After a day struggling with the icy water and the immense weight of the craft, the mood on the shoreline in lower Manhattan turned festive with the successful operation. Following the long work to secure the plane, people shook hands and investigators took snapshots, while police helicopters hovered overhead.

Investigators on the barge circled the dented jetliner, examining the damage. An emergency slide still hung from the plane, and a compartment door was open, with luggage still visible inside. A gash extended from the base of the plane toward the windows. And in places, the skin of the aircraft was simply gone.

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Associated Press writers David B. Caruso, Adam Goldman and Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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