USAIR crash in the Hudson; “What Happened?”

Posted on 16. Jan, 2009 by in Featured

Below is one of the better eye-witness accounts.

So what happened? There is a lot of information out there now and the causes seem very apparent, so I will speculate on the accident. The Airbus 320 took off in a northerly direction from LGA (LaGuardia Airport) runway 4 (heading of 040 degrees). On initial climb out they flew into a flock of geese, both engines ingested geese causing severe internal damage, and they turned west. The crew reported over the radio the bird strike and engine trouble and turned again, this time to the south, in an attempt to make Teterboro Field, an executive jet airfield on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. The A-320 reached an altitude of 3200 feet before both engines failed. Now heading south, the crew made the decision to ditch, their only option. Gliding down to the Hudson (at I would guess approx. 200 knots indicated) they traded excess airspeed in the flare to arrest the rate of descent (probably around 2,000 feet per minute) and get it below (approx.) 700 feet per minute which cushioned the water landing enough to prevent the fuselage from breaking up. Also, they expertly kept the wings level which prevented the A-320 from cart-wheeling and thus breaking up (see below).

It appears to me that the above aircraft stalled the wing (got too slow and stopped flying), causing the wing to drop. A classic, full stall response. In dead-sticking an aircraft, it is critical to keep the airspeed high enough to enable you to fly the aircraft all the way to touchdown. If the flaps are stuck at a takeoff setting, or in the up position, the required speed will be much higher.

It wasn’t a miracle. It was an experienced crew doing what they were trained to do over their professional careers. Was it heroic? Most definitely. Being able to perform your duties under severe duress is the definition most in the military use as a measure for bravery. The irony for me is that Airline Pilots’ careers have been under siege for the past 8 years. While CEOs and company officers have become instant multi-millionaires, most have done it by destroying the livelihoods of their pilots. This USAIR crew had their retirement accounts stolen and their pay slashed; do you think they are worth the money now? By the way, the Captain, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger the III, was the last to leave the aircaft after he insured every one was off. We are trained to go down the aisle and look in each row, especially for children. They hide when they are frightened.

No Responses to “USAIR crash in the Hudson; “What Happened?””

  1. lavonne 16 January 2009 at 15:09 #

    Thanks, Chip. It’s interesting that no one in the media is talking about how badly pilots are being treated by the airlines. I hope someone picks up on this point.

  2. Chip 16 January 2009 at 15:44 #

    Hi LaVonne;
    It has been rough over the last 8 years for pilots. United, Delta, USair, North West all got their retirement funds stolen from them. The entire industry took deep pay cuts 23-40%. Thousands lost their jobs; work rules, vacation were all decimated, which caused even more lay offs. Through all of this, inspite of all of this, the industry has had the safest record in history recently. Ironically the highest paid pilots in the industry are FEDEX and UPS Cargo pilots; I guess this country cares more about boxes than people.

  3. Rick 16 January 2009 at 15:54 #

    The images of the plane that I have seen appears to me the flaps might only have been set at 10 degrees. Have you noticed that? Do you agree with that? Obviously everything he did was right, but it would have been my instinct to be a full flaps or at least 20 degrees to be as slow as possible without stalling. Your thoughts?

  4. Chip 16 January 2009 at 16:32 #

    I’m not qualified on the Air Bus, never have been. However I do know it is an “electric” aircraft. In english that means you need electric power for moving everything. IMO flaps would not be on an emergency eletrical bus and thus the flaps would be locked in the last selected position. 11 degrees of flaps is the normal take off setting for the MD-80, I suspect that the A-320 is close to that as well. If they had time to get the APU running they could have gotten the main electrical busses back on line. However the APUs are shut down after engine start, on the MD-80 there is a one minute timer to position all the valves etc. for start and then it takes at least that long to start and bring the APU generator on line. And, it is not on the emergency bus on the MD-80 so couldn’t be started anyway. The start cycle draws too much power. They were only airborne 3 minutes total. They had to play the hand they were dealt, and they played it expertly.

  5. Chip 16 January 2009 at 16:35 #

    BTW the emergency bus is powered by a battery, that is why they have very few items on it.

  6. Rick 16 January 2009 at 19:05 #

    Thank you for coloring in that information on the BUS. I didn’t know that. The one thing that analysts are not recognizing is he did this on downwind…which to me makes the whole perfect thing even more commendable. Thanks for your excellant analysis.

  7. Chip 17 January 2009 at 13:27 #

    Excellent observation, I had not thought about that. Unfortunately we land with tail winds alot on the line. Many airports have prefered landing runways and will continue with them even with a strong tail wind. “Turning around the airport” is a huge pain for the controlers. normally finally a crew will call uncle. No doubt Sully has more than a few tail wind landings. There really is no replacement for training and experience.

  8. Chip 22 January 2009 at 10:49 #

    A point I had forgotten on the aircraft (767) that cartwheeled in off the coast of Africa. The crew was fighting terrorists in the cockpit. Under those circumstances it is amazing anyone survived.

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