Thinking about views from above and the degree to which they are removed from the ground below.
Plane crashes remind us of how little separates the aerial view from the ground, or water, below.
Miracle on the Hudson: 155 survive crash as jet hits river in New York
Pilot of US Airways plane avoids disaster and saves lives of 155 people after engine catches fire due to suspected bird strike
The pilot of a US Airways jet managed to avoid disaster and save the lives of all 155 people on board his stricken plane when he ditched into the icy waters of the Hudson river moments after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia airport.
The extraordinary escape was immediately dubbed the miracle on the Hudson, and hailed as a testimony to the ability of New York to cope with disaster in the wake of 9/11. Flight 1549 was carrying 148 passengers, including a baby, five crew and two pilots, and all of them escaped.
The captain, named last night as Chesley Sullenberger, has 29 years’ experience with commercial airlines and is a former US airforce fighter pilot.
With both his twin engines in trouble, one apparently on fire, and with the nearest airport out of range, he calmly brought the plane to land on the river on the west side of Manhattan.
Sullenberger then helped passengers escape to rescue boats, and twice walked the length of the passenger cabin inside the sinking jet to check that everyone had got out safely, before escaping himself.
“We have had a Miracle on 34th Street. Now we have a miracle on the Hudson,“ the governor of New York, David Patterson said.
The Airbus 320 took off from LaGuardia bound for Charlotte in North Carolina at 3.26pm. A mere 30 to 45 seconds after take-off there was a bang and the aircraft shook, believed to have been caused by it striking a flock of geese.
The pilot reported to air traffic control that he was experiencing engine problems and requested to return to ground. The nearest identified airport was in New Jersey, but when it became clear he could not make it, the pilot prepared for a crash landing on the Hudson. “Brace yourself for impact,“ he told the passengers.
Seconds later the plane struck the Hudson, on a line with 48th Street in midtown Manhattan, turning a stretch of waterway normally populated by tourists enjoying a waterside view of the skyscrapers into an astonishing fight for survival.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing a splash and the plane coming to an immediate stop; it looked so controlled that some witnesses mistook it for the landing of a seaplane. “I just thought, ‘Why is it so low?’ And splash, it hit the water,“ said one witness, Barbara Sambriski.
Jeff Kolodjay, one of the passengers, said that after take-off they had heard a bang and the plane filled with smoke from the left engine. “It was pretty scary, man. We got out by the luck of God. I take my hat off to the pilot – it was incredible we all made it off alive.“
Another passenger, Alberto Panero, said: “I want to say thank you to that pilot. It was as good a landing as you can make in a river.“ He said that passengers had begun praying as it came in low over the river, but all had remained calm.
The survival of all on board appears to have been thanks to a combination of the plane remaining intact on impact and almost immediate assistance from at least seven water taxis and tugs which swarmed around the jet. Doors were opened quickly at the front of the aircraft and over the wings, and passengers either stepped straight into the boats or stood in line on rafts, or on top of the wings which acted as buoyancy and kept the plane afloat.
By the time all had been taken on to the rescue boats, the plane had water up to its windows and was floating rapidly southwards in the outgoing tide. Several passengers were taken to hospitals in New York and New Jersey, but their injuries were reported to be no more serious than mild hypothermia, shock, cuts and bruises.
“Normally this isn’t the way people arrive in New York,“ said the city’s mayor Michael Bloomberg. “But as long as everyone got off safely that’s secondary.“
A team of 20 investigators from the National Transportation and Safety Board has been dispatched to root out the causes of the plane failure.
Witnesses suggested that the engine trouble was caused by the plane flying into a flock of geese – a perennial threat at New York airports as a result of the city lying on a well-used migratory path for birds.
One puzzle, though, is why both engines cut out. The left engine appeared to have caught fire, but pilots are usually able to bring a plane into an emergency landing with just one engine working.
An air incident investigator, David Gleave, told the BBC that the incident was “quite remarkable, but not unique“. He said if both engines of the plane had failed, the aircraft would become like a “glider“