New York, NY —
It was just after 3:30 yesterday afternoon when an Airbus A-320 plunged into the Hudson River near 48th Street. The U.S. Airways flight to Charlotte had only been in the air for a few minutes when the pilot reported a double bird strike and told air controllers they needed to land right away. Pilot Chesley Sullenberger was told to land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. But for reasons still unknown, Sullenberger decided to attempt one of the rarest events in aviation: a water landing.
William Duckworth says he happened to be looking out his window in West New York, New Jersey.
DUCKWORTH: It was a perfect landing, it was like the pilot had it under control and the only problem was it was landing in the water and not on a runway.
REPORTER: Midtown office workers also saw the plane in the river. Anne Beaumont says she'd just returned to her desk in a building at 50th and Broadway.
BEAUMONT: I saw what didn't look like a normal boat in the river and I suddenly realized it was an airplane. And there was one ferry initially going towards it very quickly and eventually about three ferries converged on it.
REPORTER: It was just before rush hour, and lots of ferries were shuttling passengers between New York and New Jersey. Allen Warren, director of ferry operations at New York Waterway, says he dispatched about 14 boats to the scene.
WARREN: I've been with the company for 12 years now and we don't think - we just react. And everyone kind of knows what they do, from the people in the office answering the phones to the people on the ferries.
REPORTER: One of those ferry captains who responded to the sinking plane was 20-year-old Brittany Catanzaro only a few months on the job as New York Waterway's youngest and first female captain. She found passengers lined up on the wing, some with no life jackets.
CATANZARO: We used our Jason's cradle. It hangs off the bow of the boat and it drops into the water and we have the option of hoisting somebody up or they have the option of climbing.
REPORTER: The NYPD says two of its harbor divers rescued two women who were unable to move on their own in the frigid Hudson waters. All 155 people on board Flight 1549 were rescued including Jeff Kolodjay of Norwalk, Connecticut.
KOLODJAY: The captain did just a helluva job of making sure that everyone survived because without good flying, man it was scary, so I apologize, my voice is cracking a little bit, I'm just really excited to be alive man.
REPORTER: Kolodjay says men on the plane moved to get women and children off first, as the fuselage quickly filled with water and floated swiftly down river.
Passengers were taken to hospitals in New York and New Jersey, and some were treated for hypothermia. No serious injuries were reported.
Two hours after the crash, at a command center near 40th Street, Governor Paterson said in addition to a "Miracle on 34th Street," New York now has a miracle on the Hudson.
PATERSON: This is really a potential tragedy that may have become one of the most spectacular days in the history of New York City's agencies, its coordination and the greatness of the people who work here, and all they did for those passengers.
REPORTER: The jet floated all the way south to Battery Park City with its flotilla. A fire department scuba diver grabbed hold of the fuselage and tied it to a seawall. Federal investigators have taken control of the site and will conduct an investigation into the crash. And it's likely to involve birds. Witnesses and the FAA say they may have flown into the plane before it plunged into the Hudson. Scientist Mike Linnell is on a committee that works to keep birds away from planes.
LINNELL: There's more air traffic than we've ever had. We have faster quieter aircraft and so the animals cannot detect them as readily.
REPORTER: Aviation experts say airplane engines are designed to be hit by a bird and contain the engine failure. But a two-engine plane, like the Airbus that crashed yesterday, would not be able to maintain flight if birds hit both engines.