Hudson River landing transcripts released

February 5, 2009 8:37:50 PM PST
The air traffic controllers became increasingly frantic as they scrambled to find a runway for crippled US Airways Flight 1549 as it descended perilously close to Manhattan. Then came the matter-of-fact reply from the captain: "We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson." Audio recordings released Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration reveal a tense, lightning-fast scramble as controllers tried to arrange an emergency landing before losing touch with the Airbus A320 after it ditched into the Hudson River. In the confusion, controllers mistakenly referred to the aircraft as Flight 1529 at several times; even the pilot or first officer misidentified their flight at one point.

The last words from Flight 1549 as it left the ground at New York's LaGuardia Airport at almost 3:26 p.m. EST Jan. 15 were, "Good day." One minute and 48 seconds later, the crew reported, "Hit birds, we lost thrust in both engines, we're turning back to LaGuardia."

A controller at the radar facility in Westbury, N.Y., handling the plane once it left LaGuardia told the airport tower: "Stop your departures, we got an emergency returning." After identifying the flight, the controller said, "He lost all engines, he lost the thrust in the engines, he is returning immediately."

The flight had been in the air for two minutes and six seconds.

Then 17 seconds later, Flight 1549 reported back to TRACON (the Terminal Radar Approach Control facility): "We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson."

That led to an unsuccessful scramble to divert the plane to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.

"Emergency inbound," one controller said as he tried to arrange a landing.

"He was a bird strike. Can I get him in for Runway One?" said the TRACON controller, identified by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association as Patrick Harten, a 10-year veteran.

"Runway One, that's good," the Teterboro controller replied, according to the recordings released by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Cactus 1529 turn right two-eight-zero" for Teterboro, Harten ordered the plane's pilot. Cactus is the call sign used by controllers for US Airways.

"We can't do it," the crew said.

"OK, which runway would you like at Teterboro?" Harten asked.

"We're going to be in the Hudson," the pilot replied.

"I'm sorry, say again Cactus," Harten said after hearing the pilot's message that he was ditching the plane.

There was no response.

The Teterboro operations staff worried that the Airbus 320 might weigh too much to land at the small airport. Risks include blowing a tire, running off the runway or breaking apart on landing.

"I believe he's too heavy, but let me talk to the supervisor," airport operations said.

"Yeah, he's, he's gonna land here cause he's, he's, he's fallin' down right now, he's comin' in, he's gonna land," a Teterboro air traffic control supervisor said, adding that he was calling out emergency rescue equipment.

By then, however, it was no longer needed.

"It appears that Cactus might have went down the east river there," TRACON told Teterboro.

After contact with the plane was lost, the tension at TRACON was clear in Harten's voice as he tried to raise a response from the aircraft. He sighed and then whispered to himself, "Right."

"I guess it was a double bird strike and he lost all thrust so ...," he said. It was not clear whether he was talking to other controllers nearby or another plane.

At LaGuardia, controllers were talking to a helicopter that kept the plane in sight.

"I got him in sight right next to the USS Intrepid, midriver," the helicopter reported. "It appears they are deploying the rafts right now."

Another LaGuardia controller was talking to airport officials, asking them to launch a rescue effort.

"OK, listen. We're going to tell you something important - it's Cactus 1549," the controller said urgently. "We see somebody low level in the Hudson River. ... You're gonna need to alert the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police over there. ... He's about a mile and a half north of the Lincoln Tunnel. ... We still have a target on him, but he looks like he's low level."

US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger has told FAA investigators he glided the plane into the river rather than risk a catastrophic crash in a densely populated area. All 155 people aboard survived.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday it confirmed there were birds in both the airliner's engines. Remains from both engines have been sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington to have the particular bird species identified.

Last week, the aircraft was moved from the barge where it had been docked in Jersey City, N.J., to a secure salvage yard in Kearny, N.J. The board's investigation could take 18 months.


Associated Press writer Pete Yost contributed to this report.

Below is the transcript of that conversation beginning about two minutes after the flight departed from LaGuardia airport. Flight 1549 is referred to by the call sign "cactus" in its communications with air traffic control.

Listen to the audio communication between the pilot and air traffic control. CLICK HERE.

To listen to the FAA's audio recordings, click here.

3:27:32 New York TRACON: "Cactus 1549, turn left heading 2-7-0."

3:27:36 Flight 1549: "Ah, this, uh, Cactus 1539. Hit birds, we lost thrust in both engines. We're turning back towards LaGuardia."

3:27:42 New York TRACON: "Okay, yea, you need to return to Laguardia. Turn left heading of uh, 2-2-0."

3:27:46 Flight 1549: 2-2-0.

3:27:49 New York TRACON: "Tower, stop your departures. We got an emergency returning."

3:27:53 LaGuardia "Who is it?"

3:27:54 New York TRACON: "It's 1529, he ah, bird strike. He lost all engines. He lost the thrust in the engines. He is returning immediately."

3:27:59 LaGuardia: "Cactus 1529, which engine?"

3:28:01 New York TRACON: "He lost thrust in both engines, he said."

3:28:03 LaGuardia: "Got it."

3:28:05 New York TRACON: "Cactus 1529, if we can get it to you, do you want to try to land runway 1-3?"

3:28:11 Flight 1549: "We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson."

3:28:17 New York TRACON: "Jet Link 2760, turn left 0-7-0."

3:28:19 Jet Link 2760: "Left turn, 0-7-0 Jet Link 2760."

3:28:31 New York TRACON: "Alright cactus 1549. It's going to be a left. Traffic to runway 3-1."

3:28:34 Flight 1549: "Unable."

3:28:36 New York TRACON: "Okay, what do you need to land?"

3:28:46 New York TRACON: "Cactus 1549, runway four is available if you want to make left traffic to runway four."

3:28:50 Flight 1549: "I am not sure if we can make any runway. Oh, what's that over to our right? Anything in New Jersey, maybe Teterboro?"

3:28:55 New York TRACON: "Okay yea, off to your right is Teterboro airport."

3:29:02 New York TRACON: "Do you want to try and go to Teterboro?"

3:29:03 Flight 1549: "Yes."

3:29:05 New York TRACON: "Teterboro, uh, empire actually. LaGuardia departure got an emergency inbound.

3:29:10 Teterboro: "Okay, go ahead."

3:29:11 New York TRACON: "Cactus 1529, Over the George Washington Bridge want to go to the airport right now."

3:29:14 Teterboro: "He wants to go to our airport check. Does he need any assistance?"

3:29:17 New York TRACON: "Ah, yes, he, ah, was a bird strike. Can I get him in for runway one?"

3:29:19 Teterboro: "Runway one, that's good."

3:29:21 New York TRACON: "Cactus 1529, turn right 2-8-0, you can land runway one at Teterboro."

3:29:25 Flight 1549: "We can't do it."

3:29:26 New York TRACON: "Okay, which runway would you like at Teterboro?"

3:29:28 Flight 1549: "We're gonna be in the Hudson."

3:29:33 New York TRACON: "I'm sorry, say again, Cactus."

3:29:41 New York TRACON: "Jetlink, 2760, contact New York. O-2-6 point 8.

3:29:45 Jet Link 2760: "20-6-8 Jet Link 2760."

3:29:51 New York TRACON: "Cactus, ah, cactus 1549, radar contact is lost. You also got Newark airport off your two o'clock and about seven miles."

3:30:06 New York TRACON: Eagle flight 4718, turn left heading 2-1-0.

3:30:09 Eagle Flight 4718: "2-1-0, um, 4718. I don't know, I think he said he was going in the Hudson."

3:30:14 New York TRACON: "Cactus 1529, uh, you still on?"

3:30:22 New York TRACON: "Cactus 1529, if you can, ah, you got, ah, runway 2-9 available at Newark off your two o'clock and seven miles."

3:30:32 New York TRACON: "Eagle flight 4718, climb and maintain one two thousand."

3:30:34 Eagle flight 4718 "Okay, 1-2 thousand and, ah, leaving 5 and 280 heading."

3:30:41 New York TRACON: "And Eagle flight 4718, I"m sorry, I missed that, say again."

3:30:45 Eagle Flight 4718: "And uh, we're up to 12,000, uh, 280 on the heading."

3:30:48 New York TRACON: "Okay, thank you Eagle flight 4718, Turn left. 2-2-0."

3:30:51 Eagle Flight 4718: "2-2-0 4718."

3:31:30 Unknown: "Was that cactus up by the Tappan Zee?"

3:31:32 New York TRACON: "Uh, yeah, it was a cactus. He was just north of the, ah, George Washington Bridge when they had the bird strike."


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