Especially one that lost power in both engines 90 seconds after take-off and had to ditch on a deep, freezing cold river.
Yes, this was the “Miracle on the Hudson” airplane.
Although damaged, most of the plane is intact and on display at the Carolinas Aviation Museum.
While visiting family in Charlotte, NC, we jumped at the opportunity to see the miracle plane and the corresponding displays.
Although we knew that all 150 passengers and five crew on Flight 1549 survived the accident – thanks to the skill and quick thinking of the captain and first officer – we never realized the extremely narrow parameters for a survivable water ditching.
To execute this unexpected and unrehearsed maneuver, Captain Sullenbeger had to touch down on the water tail first and at an 11 degree angle.
Why 11 degrees?
If the tail hits the water at a steeper angle, the plane’s nose jerks down and dives under the water. This motion tears apart the fuselage and the aircraft quickly sinks.
Although the Airbus 320 ditched at the correct angle, a back section of the plane did break off when the tail hit the river. Water began flowing into the rear of the plane, slowly sinking the aircraft.
Unlike many other planes, Flight 1549 was an EOW (extended over water) Airbus 320, and had life vests for all aboard along with four slide rafts with a maximum capacity of 55 persons.
A flock of Canadian geese created the emergency. From the museum’s display plaques we learned that aircraft engines are required to withstand the ingestion of birds: 16 small birds (3.3oz. each), 7 medium birds (2.5 lbs. each), or 1 large bird (8 lbs.)
However, Flight 1549 hit geese much larger and heavier than the engines were built to withstand. Tests conducted on bird remains found in the engines showed that each engine ingested at least two Canadian geese.
One bit of information hit home as I read about the 150 passengers and their attention to the preflight instructions. The following is a quote from a display plaque:
“On Flight 1549 only 25 passengers watched the safety demonstrations, 12 read the preflight instructions, and after the call to brace for impact only two donned the life vests under their seats. Many did not understand the proper brace position and 30 injured their heads on impact. Once the plane made an emergency landing in the Hudson, some passengers were confused about how to evacuate the aircraft or what to do once they were outside the aircraft.”
Oooph! When flying, I seldom study the safety instructions, although chances are that I’ll never need to implement them. However, as someone once said, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”
I left the museum with an important reminder: When given the opportunity, prepare ahead of time for the unexpected. Not only when flying, but anytime.