Miracle On The Hudson Probe To Take A Year

(CBS/AP) The probe into the crash-landing of a US Airways jetliner will take a year, and the lessons learned from the spectacular accident will last much longer, a senior investigator said Monday.

"I think this one is going to be studied for decades," said Robert Benzon, chief investigator on the case for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Benzon said the fact that all 155 people aboard the plane survived removes the guilt and finger-pointing that sometimes accompany aviation accidents. He said lessons learned from the successful ditching into the Hudson River could improve air safety.

"In one like this, I think there's potential for a lot of good to come out of it, long-term good," he said.

NTSB Spokesman Peter Knudson told CBS News that the investigation into the crash has shown "no malfunction or anomalies with the aircraft until the point that thrust was lost."

"The flight crew indicated they believe a bird strike (occured before the engines lost thrust) ... Everything the the crew has told us has been corrobated by CVR (cockpit voice recorder) and FDR (flight data recorder)," Knudson said.

As it is early in the investigation, NTSB is stopping short of saying definitively that a bird strike caused the accident.

The Airbus A320 that splashed down in the river Thursday was at a New Jersey salvage yard Monday, where it was being guarded by company workers, federal investigators and New York City police.

"I was surprised at how intact the plane was," said James Marchioni, a manager at Weeks Marine in Jersey City, N.J. "There were some bottom panels that were damaged. Other than that, it looked pretty good."

Marchioni said the NTSB estimated it would take "a week or two" to disassemble the plane so the parts can be shipped to an undisclosed location for closer examination.

The search for the plane's missing left engine was suspended until Tuesday because ice floes in the river made it too dangerous to put divers or special sonar equipment in the water.

Pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger safely landed the plane in the frigid river after colliding with a flock of birds, according to the preliminary investigation. The collision shut down both engines less than two minutes after takeoff, based on information taken from the flight data recorder.

President-elect Barack Obama said Monday he had spoken with the California pilot, who told him, "Me and my crew, we were just doing our job.'

"And it made me think, if everybody did their job - whatever that job was - as well as that pilot did his job, we'd be in pretty good shape," Obama said. Sullenberger, his crew and family were invited by Obama to attend Tuesday's inauguration.

The five-member crew including three flight attendants has been besieged for media interviews. In particular, the media has been clamoring to interview Sullenberger, whose skill and quick-thinking have been roundly praised. The veteran pilot had scheduled what was to be his first public interview for Monday with NBC's "Today," but canceled at the request of his union.

Stephen Bradford, president of the pilots association, said he asked Sullenberger not to talk to the media because the pilots association has "interested party" status with the NTSB.

NTSB spokeswoman Bridget Serchak said Sullenberger was free to give interviews if he wished.

Sullenberger released a statement deferring to the union's advice. "The Sullenbergers continue to thank their many well-wishers for the incredible outpouring of support," the statement said.

Sullenberger reported the Airbus 320 had run into birds and lost power in both engines moments after taking off from LaGuardia Airport. Unable to return to LaGuardia or to reach Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, he told safety investigators he chose to glide the plane to a river landing to avoid the likely catastrophe that would have followed if it had crashed in a densely populated area.

The crew and the airline released separate statements Monday pleading for privacy.

The statement was released by the US Airline Pilots Association - the US Airways pilots' union - and the Association of Flight Attendants.

The crew said they "wish to offer their sincere thanks and appreciation for the overwhelming support, praise and well wishes they have received from the public around the world since the events of last Thursday."

They said they are willing to do media interviews "when the time is right."

The airline said it was "extremely proud of the professional crew of Flight 1549," but said that it and union leaders would "determine when media interviews are appropriate."

The crew did speak with the NTSB, and Benzon said investigators would spend much time analyzing the crew's choices.

"The way the landing itself occurred, the thought process that went through the mind of the pilots and the flight attendants. It's interesting stuff for us," Benzon said. "It's going to take a while to go through it, but this one's going to go down as a classic."

Though the plane's pilot and crew are remaining mum about the accident, some of the passengers are sharing their stories.

Shortly after the splashdown, Baltimore attorney Jim Hanks made what he began to believe was a fatal mistake.

Recalling the preflight safety instructions, "Head for the nearest exit," Hanks left his seat three rows from the rear of the Airbus 320 and headed for the rear door. He says a flight attendant told him that using the rear door was "hopeless," but he had to see for himself. He says he discovered the door jamb and the door were twisted and bent, letting in water. It was clear the door wouldn't open. Meanwhile, the frigid water had risen to his neck.

Hanks thought about his wife and daughter and wondered if he was about to drown. However, he headed forward, and discovered the nose of the plane was above the water and the front exits were open into sunlight.

© MMIX, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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