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Hudson River Splashdown Wrecked Air Traffic Controller

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rescue workers assist a New York City Fire Department boat. (Getty)

Rescue workers assist a New York City Fire Department boat. (Getty)

Fearing US Airways Flight 1549 had crashed and no one would survive, air traffic controller Patrick Harten said he was an emotional wreck after the plane disappeared from his radar screen. Harten is speaking about the crash for the first time, as the US House holds a hearing today on what lessons the nation can learn from the averted disaster.

Harten recalled how he told pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger to return to LaGuardia, then offered up a runway at Teterboro. Sullenberger replied that his plane was 'gonna be in the Hudson” and the rest of the “miracle” is history. Only Harten didn’t trust Sully’s flying prowess: “People don’t survive landings on the Hudson River,” he said today, “I thought it was his own death sentence.”

After the plane disappeared from his radar, Harten was relieved from his duty, saying he was in no shape to guide planes through the air. He said that moment was 'his lowest low.' He couldn't even speak to his wife, opting to send a text message instead: 'Had a crash. I'm not OK. Can't talk right now.'

Listen here for Harten's entire opening statement before the House Aviation Committee:



Meanwhile, in his opening statement, Captain Sullenberger called on Congress to help make aviation a more attractive profession, noting that his own pay has been cut by 40 percent and his pension gutted. He said he's not exaggerating when he says he "does not know a single professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps."

Back when the pilots and crew and were handed keys to New York City, they said how happy they were that their survival story was making members the airline industry smile for once, after so many years of layoffs and cutbacks.

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