Plane crashes in New York's Hudson River, nobody dies
Agence France-Presse
Published: Thursday January 15, 2009

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NEW YORK (AFP) A US Airways plane carrying 155 people crashed into New York's Hudson River Thursday, but all aboard had a miraculous escape as the freezing waters rose around them, US officials said.

The Airbus carrying 150 passengers and five crew lost power in both engines almost simultaneously, a highly rare event, just minutes after take-off from La Guardia outside New York.

Initial reports from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) suggested the plane's engines stopped after a collision with birds, but this was not immediately confirmed. Terrorism was ruled out.

In the seconds after the crash, dozens of frantic passengers clustered on the wings of the plane hoping to be picked up by boats before the aircraft sank.

Photographs showed people lined up along the length of one wing, the river lapping over their feet as they scrambled into the arms of their rescuers.

Survivors and officials praised the heroism of the pilot who managed to glide US Air flight 1549 into the river after both engines failed three minutes after take-off en route to Charlotte, North Carolina.

President George W. Bush said in a statement he was "inspired by the skill and heroism of the flight crew, as well as the dedication and selflessness of the emergency responders."

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said preliminary reports were that birds hit the plane.

"There were reports of a large flock of birds in the area," she said, "but we don't have any indication that this was the cause."

Investigators were due to arrive in New York to look at the wreckage.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there was "absolutely no indication whatsoever" of a terrorist attack.

"People are about as sure as they can be without pulling the plane out of the water that this was nothing but an accident."

Passenger Alberto Panero told CNN said he heard a loud bang just after take-off.

"The plane shook a bit and immediately, you could smell smoke or fire and immediately, the plane basically just started turning in another direction," he said.

"All of a sudden, the captain came on and said, 'Brace for impact' and that's when we knew we were going down, into the water. And we just hit and somehow the plane, you know, stayed afloat and we were all able to get on the raft and -- it's just incredible right now that everybody's still alive."

Another factor in addition to the pilot's skill in saving so many lives was the quick action of rescuers, including private ferry crews on the Hudson.

Police helicopters hovered over the stricken plane as four large ferries and several smaller boats gathered in the waters nearby. The Coast Guard dropped life jackets into the water for survivors amid frigid temperatures.

Fire and EMS crews assisted survivors, with one passenger saying there had been elderly people as well as children on board the aircraft.

As night began to fall over the scene, ferry boats cranked up their lights as they sought to guide the empty aircraft towards the shore to aid the investigation.

On a freezing winter's day, temperatures were estimated at 20 degrees Fahrenheit (six below Celsius) outside and 40 degrees Fahrenheit (four degrees Celsius) in the water, making it a race against time to get everyone off the plane before they suffered from hypothermia.

Panero told CNN by phone the rescue "boats managed to get right up to the door and you could just literally, in effect, jump off into a boat, never had to go into the water."

A fire department spokesman told AFP that at least 106 firefighters had been involved in the rescue and had rushed to the scene within minutes of being alerted to the crash at 15:31 (2031 GMT).

"I saw what looked to be a small commercial plane flying south making a gradual landing," witness Ben Vonklemperer told CNN.

"I saw it hit the water. It made a big splash," he said. "I did see it hit the water at a very gradual angle. It appeared not to have landing gear engaged," he said.

The Hudson River crash comes 27 years and two days after an Air Florida Boeing 737-222 airliner crashed into the 14th Street bridge in Washington and plunged into the Potomac River immediately after takeoff in a snow storm on January 13, 1982.

The accident killed 78 people, including four motorists on the bridge.