Flight 1549: The Year in Review

January 15, 2010


Flight 1549 posts

Miracle on the Hudson

Airline passengers wait to be resuced on the wings of a US Airways plane

Steven Day/AP

Today is the anniversary of the emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River that resulted from a catastrophic bird strike by Canada geese. Festivities are said to include, among other things, Canada geese pinatas.

And to commemorate the moment of touchdown, there will be a toast at the precise physical location in the Hudson where the rescue took place. This time, however, Capt Sullenberger and an (unknown) number of survivors will be on one of the boats pictured below.

This shot would make an interesting jigsaw puzzle. For perspective, look at the folks lined up at the bottom.

Gallery US Airways plane crash: Rescue boats surround the US Airways plane

Alexandre Valerio/AP


The events of the short flight, water landing, and subsequent evacuation are well documented in the many media appearances by the crew of Flight 1549 in the days following the incident. (See link at top.)  They were not exactly eager to to be in the media spotlight – each said they were just doing what they were trained to do.

The combined experience of the 5 crew members – all career airline – equals an astounding 142 years. Sully (29), Skiles (21), Welsh (38), Dail (28), Dent (26) and then add ATC Patrick Harten (10). Prior to the 4-day stint – this was the last leg on the 4th day – they had never flown together. First Officer Jeff Skiles had completed training on the Airbus just weeks previous and he and Capt Sullenberger had met for the first time for the first leg.


If interested in their interviews, follow the link above. The various appearances are listed with separate links to posts with the videos and transcripts. Letterman is the funniest, especially what Dave asked Donna Dent. Skiles gives a rather humorous accounting (the best I’ve heard) in his December speech at the 7th Annual Wright Brothers Memorial Banquet.

The Today Show had booked the initial interview, which ended up being canceled by the Pilot’s Union. Matt Lauer had a tantrum when he learned Katie Couric would get the first interview for 60 Minutes and refused to re-book the crew, saying he was “guaranteed” the first interview. He ended up interviewing Capt Sullenberger and his wife Lorrie (Lorraine) for “NBC’s People of the Year”.


Here they are at Sully’s Jan 24th Welcome Home Ceremony in their hometown of Danville, CA. He was awarded the key to the city by Mayor Anerich, “Badge #1” by the police chief and an award from the Fire Department and, of course, a flyover.


He spoke after his wife introduced him. If you watch the video, he appears nothing like the public figure he has become. One wonders which Sully resembles most closely the Sully of January 14, 2009.


But mostly, for me, he’s the man that makes my cup of tea every morning.


Air temperature 20 ° – water 36 ° – water relatively calm – no ice

All 155 souls on board survived and according to the NTSB, only 5 injuries.

And with everything Capt Sullenberger had to process, including the noise of every alarm in the cockpit either giving verbal warnings or dinging away, he consciously set the Airbus down as close to the ferry docks as possible to maximize rescue.

One passenger had actually stripped down to his boxers thinking he was going to swim to shore. No. He had not hit his head.

There was no pandemonium. Passengers worked together to make it out quickly.

Gallery US Airways plane crash: Janis Krum's picture of passengers leaving the plabe

Janis Krums/AP


Con Edison surveillance video shows how quickly the flight attendants reacted as the plane drifted. Within 20 seconds, the inflatable raft/slide pops open on the right and passengers climb out on the wing.

Courtesy CEmedia77

Other video captured three ferries converging on the plane at 4, 6:30 & 7:30 minutes after the landing – faster than ambulances could arrive. Nowhere but NY would that have been possible.

Screenshots from Guardian video

As the Airbus A320 drifted downstream, the rear of the cabin filled quickly with water – reportedly chest and chin-high – from a breach in the cargo hold, which is felt to have caused the leg laceration sustained by rear cabin flight attendant Doreen Welsh. It remained afloat long enough for the passengers to be rescued and for it to be moored approx 4 miles down river to a pier near the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan.

Gallery Hudson river plane crash: An Airbus 320 US Airways aircraft in the Hudson River

Edouard HR Gluck/AP


Days prior to the June NTSB hearing, AP mistakenly reported that Doreen Welsh had opened the rear door and attributed it to a passenger BILLY CAMPBELL who hadn’t talked to the media in months and didn’t know the door had been breached until Welsh told him after the flight.

He set the record straight during his testimony, crediting Welsh, who he described as “very courageous” with getting the passengers in the rear to turn around and exit the front and that all three of the “talented and brave” flight attendants were instrumental in the successful evacuation. Welsh said his words “meant the world” to her and then she thanked him from “the bottom of her heart”.

The NTSB apologized but the damage had already been done.


Video: a different angle of plane landing, views of the submerged plane and comments by US Airways CEO, NTSB’s KITTY HIGGINS and MAYOR BLOOMBERG, holding the key to the city.

Gov Paterson famously remarked:

We had a Miracle on 34th Street. I believe now we have had a Miracle on the Hudson.



On January 17th, the Airbus, filled with an estimated 400 tons water (total weight around 500 tons), was lifted out of the water by the biggest crane on the East coast. It was then placed on a barge and taken to the New Jersey side of the Hudson for examination.

Controversy surrounded the method of removal and whether it could have been repaired had more care been taken but it belongs on display. The TLC documentary, “Brace For Impact” has good footage of the remaining plane.

Gallery US Airways plane crash: The wreckage of US Airways Flight 1549 is lifted from the waters

Craig Ruttle/AP


The award-winning salvage photos taken by industrial photographer STEPHEN MALLONBracing for Impact: The Aftermath of Flight 1549 Photographs” will be on display at Calumet Photo Jan 15-29th. They are more than just “salvage” photos – they are art. And the way he came to shoot them and the saga that unfolded afterward is plain strange.

After Mallon initially posted them online, he was contacted by the NTSB and told to remove them. Not pleased, he fought their decision and two weeks later he was told he could re-post them – minus any photos from the interior of the plane. Great. So he did. But not for long. AIG, US Airways’ insurer, ordered him to remove them, arguing that since they were the ultimate clients contracting the photos, they are AIG/US Airways’ property. AIG -> US Airways lawyer -> Lead contractor J Supor & Sons -> Subcontractor Marine Weeks -> Mallon.

It ended up coming down to the US Airways logo – as if the world didn’t know the airline. And why, if it was a successful outcome, would they want their logo removed? I don’t know the behind closed door story, but it probably had to do with liability. The photos that could one day be Exhibit A in a courtroom would be online for the world to scrutinize. The parties eventually came to a compromise: Mallon removes the logo and the photos are his to display.


On Jan 21st, the Airbus’ left engine, which had been sheared off at impact, was found by divers about 50 feet down. Icy conditions and strong currents edlayed its removal until the 23rd. Here the massive crane is lifting it out of the water.

A jet engine lost after Flight 1549 ditched in the Hudson River is hoisted from the water Friday.

CNN Engine bottom right on the barge


If you didn’t see it, TLC aired a documentary: “Brace For Impact” narrated by Harrison Ford, who is himself a pilot. It re-created the flight with animation and Capt Sullenberger flew the route in a helicopter doing a play-by-play. NY TRACON ATC Patrick Harten sat at his scope describing how he felt as they re-played the cockpit recording. They also spoke with ATC BILL MCLOUGHLIN in the tower who watched the plane disappear below the George Washington Bridge.

Also included was a walk around of the remaining hull of the plane, which reminded very clearly of the skill it took to set that plane down on the water intact. It is to be auctioned AS IS from the NJ salvage yard. I think it belongs at the Intrepid Museum not far from where it came to rest.


First Officer Jeff Skiles (pix below) told of the aftermath as they exited the plane – he said the water was so frigid he and Sully were walking on the seats. Skiles said it was only in the last minute that he had a conscious thought that they were actually going to land on water. If you recall, none of the three flight attendants were aware they had landed on water until they deployed the rafts in front and the water began rushing in in the back. A testament to how focused they all were on doing their job


US Airway co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles attends a  a news conference with pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger at LaGuardia Airport on Sullenberger`s first official day back in the cockpit on October 1, 2009 in New York, New York. Sullenberger, will be back to piloting regular flights again following their emergency landing of a US Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson River after it lost power in both engines following a bird strike last January. Sullenberger and Skiles will follow the same route they took on the day of the accident to Charlotte, N.C , both flew up together from Charlotte in the morning.

(Spencer Platt/Getty ).

They showed footage of Sully/Skiles reuniting in the cockpit for their first flight back together (Oct 1st) so they could complete the flight they started on January 15th. Don’t know the call sign.

It was Capt Sully’s first fight after the water ditch – Skiles had already returned to the skies in April. The quickest to return to work was ATC Patrick Harten.

Another good jigsaw puzzle photo.

US Airways, crash, Hudson River

(Mario Tama/Getty)


In Brace For Impact, Capt Sully talked about the rescue with the ferry/water rescue folks as they surveyed the site of the landing. From the 150 passengers they spoke with a group of male passengers (including JEFF KOLODJAY) who were on their way to play golf and two women passengers, one of whom quit her job and become a Red Cross volunteer.

Here are 4 short video reactions of passengers right after their rescue.

Two other passengers LAURA ZYCH and BEN BOSTIC (pictured below), have since developed a relationship, which they discussed with The Early Show’s Maggie Rodgriguez in November.

They appeared with fellow passengers EILEEN SHLEFFAR and PAM SEAGLE to promote the new book: “Miracle on the Hudson: The Survivors of Flight 1549” in which 118 passengers discuss their experiences on Jan 15th.

SCHLEFFAR found peace after spending three days at Disneyworld “screaming her head off”.

Everyone was screaming, and no one knew that my screams were coming from a completely different place.

SEAGLE‘s sister died suddenly in June from a massive brain aneurysm:

My parents had thought they had lost one daughter only to lose the other within six months almost to the day.

And Australian EMMA SOPHINA, pictured below in the light yellow vest, had come to NY for a vacation and ended up getting a recording contract after she wrote “Send Another Prayer” in honor of Capt Sully, which she sang for the crew on The Early Show and other shows. She was not injured.

The frogman looks like he’s walking on water.

Unidentified smiling passenger


Conspicuously absent from the documentary were the three flight attendants: DONNA DENT, SHEILA DAIL, and DOREEN WELSH. I haven’t been able to discover why – whether it was intentional on their part or they weren’t asked to be involved.


AP’s SAMANTHA GROSS wrote about the lingering emotional and psychological effects. She spoke with DOREEN WELSH, the flight attendant in the rear who sustained a gash to her leg and three passengers: MARK HOOD, ANASTASIA SOSA “who no longer finds swimming fun – it feels too much like survival training” and JORGE MORGADO “who can’t bring himself to get back on a plane”.

Gross recounts how Welsh’s PTSD first manifested in a full-blown panic attack after accidentally inhaling some water in the shower, 6-7 months after the crash. Welsh flashbacked to the frightening moments of evacuation when she was certain she was going to die, as the frigid water rushing into the breached cabin rose to the level of her chin. Part of her treatment includes hydrotherapy – though not in the traditional sense. She works on submerging her head while she’s bathing and taking water in her mouth as she showers.

The scar from the gash on her leg, however, provides a positive reminder of her survival.

WELSH: When I look at it, it gives me that jolt to be grateful, and maybe I need that. It just brings me back to I’m just grateful I’m here and I’m happy I lived through all that.

She has not returned to work and is not sure she will – she couldn’t even put her uniform back on. The other four wore theirs for all their appearances. Last I knew, Dent and Dail had not returned either.


(Michael Nagle/Getty )

Passenger JORGE MORGADO, 33, hopes to fly to Disney World with his family in 18 months, but at present it’s still a no-go:

I know once I get on, they close that door and you’re strapped in your seat, you’re in, you’re not going anywhere. The flashbacks will still come. What happened will always be there.

Flashbacks can be triggered by something as accidental as Welsh’s inhalation of water or during meaningful events, such as anniversaries, weddings, birthday parties, and in passenger MARK HOOD’s case, the high school graduation of his child. He was overcome with a spell of dizziness when he realized:

All I could think about was this entire party would be happening without me if things had turned out differently on the 15th.

Video of Hood on the 16th giving a brief account of his experience.



And contrary to some reports, no one has sued US Airways, who issued each passenger a check for $5K, even though they had no legal obligation to do so.

The NY Times published a story in June about how AIG (the plane insurer) was refusing to issue passengers more money – like Ms Sosa mentioned above, who wanted to recoup the $3K mental health deductible for PTSD therapy. Opinions were mixed. The passengers lived…they received money to cover deductibles and immediate needs…they should grateful vs AIG’s well-publicized obscene bonuses. AIG said it would pay for 3 sessions.

In DAVE JORGENSEN’s case it wasn’t medical bills – it was personal belongings. Since he was able to document losses greater than $5K, he received another $5K and AIG told him he could receive an additional $10K if he signed off on further claims.

It would be interesting to know how many passengers received that additional $10K or other private settlements.



Attended by Sully, Skiles, Dail and Dent. They met POTUS/FLOTUS and had their pictures taken. Doreen Welsh was unable to attend because of her leg injury. She was the only member of the crew to be injured.

//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/44/Sullenberger_and_Skiles_at_inauguration.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.



Crew got a roaring standing O during halftime.



Don’t know if Welsh is a Pirates or Phillies fan but she got to see her Steelers win the Super Bowl – even if they wouldn’t let her wear her jersey on the field. Because of her injury, she had to decline an invite from Steelers owner Dan Rooney to watch the AFC Championship game from the his box.


On April 4th, before the inaugural game in the New Yankees’ Stadium – an exhibition game vs the Cubs (Steinbrenner wanted Lou Pinella there), there was a pre-game ceremony commemorating the “Miracle on the Hudson”.  They received a huge ovation.

Ceremonial first pitch tossed by Sully (video) as Welsh and Skiles look on.

(L-R) US Airways crew member Doreen Welsh, pilot, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles take the field prior to the game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs during their game on April 4, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)  Chesley Sullenberger;Doreen Welsh;Jeffrey Skiles

(NICK LAHAM/Getty Images)

April 11th, Sully also threw out the first pitch for SF Giants’ home opener. He lives in Danville, CA but grew up in Denton, Texas and his favorite team as a kid was the Yankees.

MLB video of both Sully & Skiles

Back in his native Wisconsin (he lives in Oregon), Jeff Skiles threw out the first pitch for the Milwaukee Brewers’ home opener against the Cubbies, as his son and daughter stood nervously behind the mound. Both pilots made it to the plate.


April 19th, ATC Patrick Harten, a marathoner/triathlete ran in the Boston Marathon wearing number 1549, which clearly inspired him as he cut almost 12 minutes off his time 2008 (2:58:59) – 2009 (2:47:19) moving up from 1087 to 355. His pre-race interview with WBZ-TV Boston. (Warning: autoplay)


In September, Harrison Ford handed over the reigns of chairman of the EAA Young Eagles Program after a 5-year tenure to Sully and Skiles, who act as co-chairs. I don’t know exactly when but Skiles bought a vintage plane that he talks about in his Wright Brother speech (link below).

(L-R) Pilolts Chesley Sully Sullenberger, Jeffrey Skiles and actor/pilot Harrison Ford attend the EAA Young Eagles Program press conference at the Santa Monica Airport on September 29, 2009 in Santa Monica, California.

(Frederick M. Brown/Getty )


Also in September, Welsh and Harten attended a fundraiser in Buffalo, Minnesota for “Wings of Mercy,” a program that provides free air transport for patients who can’t afford it.

And in November, Welsh teamed up with Sheila Dail for the online auction by the Pegasus Project, which provides flight attendants with financial assistance for medical care.



In December, Jeff Skiles was the keynote speaker at the 7th Annual Wright Brothers Memorial Banquet, which commemorates the 106th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk. It was also Skiles’ 26th wedding anniversary. He described himself as a aviation nerd (not in those words), so one wonders if he picked the date on purpose. After detailing Wrights’ first flight, he said the Wright Brothers are famous because they were successful and that he became semi-famous because he wasn’t. He really is quite funny.

SKILES talking about how all he ever wanted to be is a pilot:

But somewhere along the line, it became what I do, not who I am. It became a job, a job. I lost what I got into aviation for. I didn’t become a pilot for a job – I became a pilot to fly.



Capt Sullenberger served as the Grand Marshal at the 121st Annual Tournament of Roses Parade whose theme happened to be, appropriately: “A Cut Above the Rest”. He also did the coin flip at the Rose Bowl game featuring Ohio State vs Oregon.

Pictured with wife Lorrie.
Grand Marshal of the 121st annual Tournment of Roses Parade Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger, pilot of U.S. Airways flight 1549, waves to the crowd on January 1, 2010 in Pasadena, California.

(Frederick M. Brown/Getty)


Follow the link at top, if interested, for other appearances and interviews by the crew members and passengers. The only crew member I have heard nothing about since their initial media blitz and testimony before Congress is Donna Dent, pictured below. Hope she’s doing well.

Flight Attendant Donna Dent of US Airways Flight 1549 holds up her key to the city a press conference at City Hall on February 9, 2008 in New York City.  Sullenberger III executed an emergency landing on the Hudson River on January 15, saving all the passengers on board. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Doreen Walsh

(Michael Nagle/Getty)

All in all a remarkable group of folks on and off the plane.


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