NEW YORK (AP) - Jeff Kolodjay settled into seat 22-A, near the
rear of the Airbus A320, glad to be on his way.
It had been a frustrating afternoon. First, the Spirit Airways
flight Kolodjay, his father, and four buddies were ticketed for was
canceled. Now this one, US Airways Flight 1549 to Charlotte, N.C.,
was running behind.
But Kolodjay, already wearing his checkered golf cap despite the
afternoon's 18-degree chill, was looking ahead. By night, he
figured, the delays would be forgotten and he and his friends would
be in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where temperatures in the 50s and a few
days on the links awaited.
From where he sat, it looked as if every seat on the plane was
filled. A mother holding a baby. Three executives from Wells Fargo,
traveling on business.
In all, 155 people boarded the plane - and, amazingly, every one
of them made it off alive, after a five-minute flight that ended in
the freezing water of the Hudson River.
By 3 p.m., the flight was running about 15 minutes late. But
that was certainly typical for New York's tangled LaGuardia
Airport. It was nothing Capt. Chelsey B. Sullenberger III - with 40
years of flying experience - hadn't seen before. Three minutes
later, the flier known as "Sully" pushed back from the gate and
pivoted his craft toward the runway. At 3:26, Flight 1549 was
As the plane climbed over Queens and the Robert F. Kennedy
Bridge came into sight 1,800 feet below, passengers began to get
comfortable. In his seat on the left side of the plane, Fred
Berretta, heading home to Charlotte after a business trip, closed
his eyes and started to nod off.
The plane continued its ascent - 2,800 feet, then 3,200. The
apartment towers of Harlem quickly slipped below the plane, with
the Hudson River and New Jersey ahead.
But up in the cockpit, Sullenberger knew something was wrong.
Less than a minute into the flight, he radioed an air traffic
controller at New York TRACON, or Terminal Radar Approach Control,
in Westbury, N.Y. His plane had suffered a "double bird strike"
and would have to return to the airport.
As the controller began routing the aircraft back to LaGuardia,
Sullenberger looked down at northern New Jersey and asked the
controller about the runway he had spotted below. What was it? That
was Teterboro Airport, a strip popular with corporate jets.
Sullenberger asked for permission to make an emergency landing.
In the cabin, passengers, too, were certain things had gone
wrong. Berretta sat up straight upon hearing a loud boom, and
looked out the window. Smoke was billowing from the engine mounted
on the wing just in front of him.
The plane banked left, heading due south over the Hudson and
losing altitude quickly. 2,000 feet. 1,600 feet. 1,200 feet. 400
"Brace for impact!" the pilot barked over the intercom in the
Berretta leaned forward in prayer. Moments later, the gray and
blue craft slammed into the water with a jolt.
Sitting in traffic at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 34th
Street, construction sales representative Jeremy Maycroft stared
west toward the Hudson. Was that a plane?
Inside Flight 1549, a few people screamed, then everyone turned
quiet, looking out at the gray waters of the Hudson that lapped at
the windows and began pouring into the cabin.
Moments later, they were on the move. The mother with the baby,
seated near the back of the plane, tried to crawl over the seat in
front of her. Women and children first!, some of the male
passengers shouted. They made their way out the doors at the front
and middle of the plane, and onto the wings.
The last to go was Sullenberger, who walked the length of the
plane twice to make sure all were out.
Outside, the water was frigid, soaking Kolodjay from the waist
down. But help was already at hand, with 14 vessels from the NY
Waterway commuter ferry service and the Circle Line sightseeing
fleet rushing to the scene.
At the helm of the ferry Thomas Jefferson, Capt. Vincent
Lombardi pulled alongside, greeted by cheers. People were spread
across the plane's wings. Others were in inflatable rafts. A few
people were in the water. You see a lot of things in New York's
waters, but who would believe this story?
The passengers grabbed life vests and lines of rope and were
tossing them out.
"We had to pull an elderly woman out of a raft in a sling. She
was crying," Lombardi said. "We gave them the jackets off our
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)