NEW YORK — A US Airways jet crashed Thursday in the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey after a flock of birds apparently struck its engines — but all 155 people on board are thought to have survived, and the pilot is being hailed as a hero.
Passengers were sent fleeing into the icy, 35-degree waters when the Airbus 320 went down near 48th Street in Manhattan shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport.
"We've had a 'Miracle on 34th Street' and now we have a miracle on the Hudson," said New York Gov. David Paterson.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the pilot told him he walked the plane twice to make sure everyone was off the plane, before exiting the aircraft. The pilot's identity hasn't been released, Bloomberg said, and the man is waiting to speak with the National Transportation Safety Board before talking to anyone else about what happened.
The pilot of the plane was Chesley B. Sullenburger III, his daughter confirmed to FOXNews.com. She declined to give additional details or confirm a TMZ report that he was a former Air Force flight leader and training officer who flew F-4s from 1973 to 1980.
"There were eyewitness reports the plane may have flown into a flock of birds," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said. "Right now we don't have any indication this was anything other than an accident."
National Air Traffic Controllers Union spokesman Doug Church said the pilot reported a "double bird strike" less than a minute after takeoff. The pilot then said he spotted an airport below, in New Jersey. He first intended to make an emergency landing there but instead took the plane down in the river.
Doug Parker, chairman and chief executive officer of US Airways Group, would not speculate on what caused the incident but said at a news conference after the crash that the company will cooperate fully with investigators.
Most of the passengers were held at the New York City ferry terminal at 42nd Street after the crash, though at least two were taken away on stretchers. The New York City Fire Department said 78 people were injured, but the extent of the injuries wasn't immediately known. They were taken to hospitals in New York and New Jersey.
Flight 1549 had just taken off at 3:26 p.m. when it went down. The flight was carrying 150 passengers and five crew — two pilots and three flight attendants — and was heading to Charlotte, N.C.
The plane was submerged in the icy waters up to the windows but remained completely intact. Rescue crews opened the door and pulled passengers in yellow life vests from the plane. Several boats — including commuter ferries — surrounded the plane.
Many of the passengers were able to step off the plane and directly onto a rescue boat or wait for rescue on the wings of the plane, Bloomberg said.
Passenger Fred Beretta said everyone on the plane was helping each other to get out alive.
"I think everyone was just stunned," Beretta told FOX News on The O'Reilly Factor.
Beretta, who was sitting on the left side of the plane, said he heard the engine sputter and then go quiet. That was when passengers on his side, started to ask those on the right side about that engine and they too said it was quiet.
"There was no panic on the plane," Beretta said. "The pilot made a gradual left turn and (we) were waiting and knew the would same something. It seemed like a long time [till he spoke] but it probably wasn't. the plane was quiet except for a couple of emotional outbursts, but nothing major. The only words I recall [the pilot saying] was, 'prepare for impact.'"
"I looked out the window and though, 'there is a good chance we are going to die. I thought about my family and started praying."
Beretta described a calm scene as passengers told those near emergency exits to open them and walking close together those on the plane safety exited to the wings.
A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board is expected to arrive Thursday night in New York City, Bloomberg said, adding the plane was still floating and tied up at a lower Manhattan dock.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security said terrorism wasn't suspected.
"There is no information at this time to indicate that this is a security-related incident," Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner said. "We continue to closely monitor the situation which at present is focused on search and rescue."
Witnesses said the plane's pilot appeared to guide the plane down.
"I see a commercial airliner coming down, looking like it's landing right in the water," said Bob Read, who saw it from his office at the TV news magazine "Inside Edition." "This looked like a controlled descent."
"I saw what appeared to be a tail fin of a plane sticking out of the water," Erica Schietinger, whose office windows at Chelsea Piers look out over the Hudson, said shortly after the crash. "All the boats have sort of circled the area."
Those who believe they may have family members on board flight 1549 can call US Airways at 1-800-679-8215 within the United States.
Wow. A jetliner crashes, without power, on water, stays completely intact, and everyone survives. That's not supposed to happen. I mean that literally: jetliners aren't really designed to handle water landings. And the fact that everyone made it out is even more unbelievable. Even rescue crews are saying they'd expected there to be at least one or two deaths. But One Hundred Fifty-Five Survivors out of One Hundred Fifty-Five Passengers? No one expected that. And from what I've seen with the interviews of survivors, everyone remained calm, nobody went nuts or did anything stupid, either.
People say miracles don't happen anymore. A jetliner crashes on water, remains intact, and everyone gets out alive? If that's not a miracle, nothing is. God's hand was definitely on that plane when it came down, and with those passengers as they got out.