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Op-Ed – One Decade Ago: The Miracle on the Hudson

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Op-Ed – One Decade Ago: The Miracle on the Hudson

Op-Ed – One Decade Ago: The Miracle on the Hudson
January 15
14:31 2019

LONDON – Today marks the 10 year anniversary of one the of the greatest—and saddest—moments in aviation history. It was the day when two pilots did something that many, to this day, still argue it was an impossible thing to get out of.  

But within 10 minutes from taking off out of New York-LaGuardia, the aircraft’s pilots and crew would become famous around the world for their professional and heroic behavior.

Their accomplishment became of the most important lessons in aviation—one that forever changed the path and safety of aviation around the world.

“Flight Attendants are skilled professionals who receive hundreds of hours of training. Each year our Flight Attendants are required to requalify in order to remain current on their safety duties,” said Lori Bassani, National President of The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA).

“No one ever wants to have to use their emergency training in a real-life situation. However, we know that with this training we are prepared to execute the duties and responsibilities that are second nature to us all,” she said.

Chris Gardner, USACE New York District Public Affairs

Bassani then named Donna, Doreen and Sheila—the three flight attendants on duty that day, for “exhibiting those skills ten years ago, and their quick action saved the lives of 150 passengers.”

“Today, APFA continues to honor our colleagues for representing our profession in its truest form,” concludes Bassani.

Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffery Skiles were operating US Airways flight 1549 from La-Guardia to Charlotte. The plane was an Airbus A320-214 equipped with two GE CFM56-5B3/P turbofan engines.

Two minutes after the plane was cleared for takeoff from La-Guardia, the aircraft hit a flock of geese, causing catastrophic damage to both engines.

Passengers and crew later reported hearing loud bangs and seeing flames coming from the engines. Reports said that these sounds lasted for a few more seconds, followed by an utter and terrifying silence, caused by the flameout of both engines.

Up front, both pilots were overwhelmed by all the cockpit alarms, boosted by the element of complete shock for dealing with an emergency that any pilot had ever been trained before.

The situation was downright tense. The aircraft lost both engines below 3,000 feet with a full load of fuel and passengers.

Photo: Greg Lam Pak Ng

Shocked and confused by what had just happened, Captain Sullenberger sprung into action with First Officer Skiles by very quickly setting the plane up into its best glide speed.

The best glide speed is a published speed from the manufacturer which tells pilots and airlines at what speed the airplane must be flown should the it ever experience a dual engine failure. This the speed provides maximum lift-to-drag ratio and thus the greatest gliding distance available.

The Airbus A320 has an estimated best glide speed of around 220 knots. At 1,500ft, for ever minute it is in the air, the pilots have about three minutes of gliding ahead of them.

Upon setting the plane up to glide, Captain Sullenberger asked First Officer Skiles to begin going through the checklist of restarting the engines. These attempts would be unsuccessful, and by the time they had finished, there was no option for the plane to glide back to a runway at any of the three airports around the plane—Newark and Teterboro.

Through the use of quick and sharp thinking, and with the help of the professional and quality training of his crew, Sully made the decision that would change the way pilots were trained forever.

Faced with no option of a runway and with skyscrapers surrounding the plane, the only option was to put the plane into the Hudson River. Only one small obstacle, however, was in their way: the fact that no one had ever attempted to land a fully loaded A320 into the river.

Upon landing in the river, all crew and passengers managed to deplane safely, assisted by the rapid response of nearby boats and ferries.

Looking back at what we learnt


Aviation has come along was since flight 1549 and many studies and improvements have been made as a result of the crash.

One of the major changes that came into effect was the requirement for all Pilots to be taught how to deal with dual engine failure after take-off. This is something that many believed would never happen in normal day-to-day operations on an aircraft. Until it did.


Read More: Keep Calm and Fly the Plane: Lessons from US Airways 1549


This is partly what makes flight 1549 so unique. There was nothing normal about the events that unfolded that day, in that single hour many events which may never happen again changed the entire course of aviation and now more research and work is being done with manufacturers around the world to better understand bird migration and how to best detect birds from ever getting close to planes.

Last year, one of these new developments was proposed to airlines around the world with “flashing” landing lights. The concept suggests that birds will be drawn away from flashing lights.

Early concepts and uses of these new designs are expected to be used and demonstrated on planes in the UK by as early as this year.

In addition to the changes on the planes and with improvements made on engines, additional training was provided to pilots from all around the world.

One of the keynotes that happened during the investigation of the accident was the NTSB’s stance against Captain Sullenberger, where they did not agree with the decision to ditch the plane in the Hudson.

In the movie “Sully,” they showed these key points of the investigation where simulated events had shown that had the pilots elected to return to LaGuardia moments after both engines had failed, the plane would have made it back to the runway.


Read More: The New “Sully” Movie: How Accurate?


Airbus ran these scenarios in their A320 simulators with two test pilots. However, it was noted that the simulation of the events had not allowed for the human factor, as the pilots of flight 1549 did not know that both engines were about to fail.

They did not turn the plane back towards the airport immediately. Instead, an estimated 100 seconds had elapsed before the serious nature of the situation they were facing had truly begun to sink in.

Although 100 seconds is not a massive amount of time, each and every one of them made it impossible for the plane to make it back to the LaGuardia, or for the plane to glide and divert to another airfield.

These 100 seconds changed the entire outcome of the investigation—the pilots were hailed as heroes and the lessons they learned that day were used to teach pilots around the world not only the importance of clear and precise crew coordination but also the importance of following the published pitch and speed layouts given to the airlines from the manufacturers.

Conclusion


Despite what could have been a tragic event in aviation, the skill and professionalism displayed by both Captain and crew on this day 10 years ago will forever be noted in the books of aviation history.

Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles, alongside their crew, acted with extreme professionalism. The decisions they were forced to make in only three minutes saved the lives of every soul onboard that Airbus jetliner.

There is an old saying in aviation around the world used by pilots: “Any landing you can walk away from, is a good landing.” Well, I guess flight 1549’s landing on the Hudson River can also be considered as “good,” but should also be noted that was nothing short of a miracle.

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Tomos Howells

Tomos Howells

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