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US Airways Plane Goes Down in NYC’s Hudson; All Safe

Bloomberg News

by Charlotte Porter – Bloomberg News Reporter

January, 15, 2009

Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) — A US Airways Group Inc. jetliner bound from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina, went down in the Hudson River today less than three minutes after takeoff. All 148 passengers and five crew members were safe, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Scott Stringer, Manhattan borough president, said the injured were taken to hospitals in New York and New Jersey.

“Our initial indication was that there was a large flock of birds in the area,” FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said on a conference call with reporters. “We don’t have any indication whether that was the cause of the accident or not.”

The pilot reported the plane, Flight 1549, hit a flock of geese after taking off at about 3 p.m. from LaGuardia airport, MSNBC said. Fire department boats and commuter ferries were dispatched to the scene near the West 50s.

The plane, which city officials said was an Airbus A320, was submerged up to its windows as passengers scrambled to safety. It soon began sinking.

New York Waterway, which provides service from New Jersey to New York, dispatched four or five boats to the scene after a captain of one of them saw the plane go down, said Zaheer Aziz, a customer service representative for the company.

“We were first on the scene before the Coast Guard got there,” Aziz said. “We are picking up people and trying to bring them to dry land. They brought in a couple” of survivors, but “I can’t tell you how many yet.”

Ferry Suspends Service

Aziz said the last time the ferry service was involved in a major rescue was after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when “we extracted many people from New York to New Jersey.”

Larry Witt, 42, an employee of OXO International, a household products company on West 26th Street between 11th and 12th avenues, had an unobstructed view of the Hudson. Witt said he was looking out the window and saw the plane about a minute after it went down.

“It was just floating in the river,” he said. Then the front door opened, and soon “the entire wing was loaded with people.”

Some of the passengers were employees of banks with offices in Charlotte, a major U.S. banking center. Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. reported having people aboard.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who returned to City Hall at about 4:30 p.m. after delivering his State of the City address, left for the scene shortly thereafter, press secretary Stu Loeser said. Bloomberg intends to give a televised briefing from the scene within the next few hours, Loeser said.

Bird Strikes Deadly

“They’re probably zeroing in on the possibility of a bird strike,” said Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. “That’s what the pilots seem to have reported, and it would explain why they lost both engines at once. You can handle hitting maybe one bird, but not three or four. If you get a flock of Canada geese, you’re going to be in trouble.”

George Hamlin, managing director of airline consulting firm ACA Associates in Fairfax, Virginia, and a former Airbus executive, said he can’t remember another recent large crash caused by bird strike.

“Ditching an aircraft is a significant accomplishment on the part of the pilot, as opposed to crashing one,” he said. “There’s no place for an airplane of that size to land in Manhattan.”

Safe Flying Period

The U.S. has been in the safest period for aviation in the nation’s history, FAA Acting Administrator Robert Sturgell said Jan. 9. There were no fatalities aboard any U.S. airline flight in 2007 or 2008, the first time in the history of the jet age that has occurred, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said in a speech yesterday.

The last major plane crash in New York City was on Nov. 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed off Queens, killing all 260 people aboard and five on the ground. It was bound for the Dominican Republic from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent company of Bloomberg News.

To contact the reporter on this story: Charlotte Porter in New York at cporter11@bloomberg.net.

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