Monday, January 19, 2009

Congratulations to the Crew of US Airways Flight 1549

As most of you know, I am an active airline captain for US Airways flying the Airbus A320. On January 15, 2009, I was scheduled for a routine morning flight from Boston to New York LaGuardia and back. There was snow falling in New York and since the airport was closed, we were sent to a holding area and took a ground delay of about one and a half hours. When several passengers relayed information to me via the flight attendants that they wished to get off the flight for various reasons, I advised the company we were returning to the gate. Shortly after, our flight was cancelled and our crew was released.

When I returned home, I received a phone call from my sister-in-law, who knew I was flying to New York that day . When I answered the phone, she exclaimed with relief, “Thank God you’re home! A US Airways airplane just went into the water in New York.” My immediate thought was that perhaps a small commuter airplane slid off the runway into the water because of the snow. Certainly it could not have been one of ours. But when I tuned in to CNN a few minutes later, I realized it was not only my airline, but it was the same type airplane that I fly. Before I knew any of the details, I assumed the worst.

As events unfolded, I was relieved to see and hear that all 155 passengers and crew were safe. New York Governor David Paterson quickly coined the event, “Miracle on the Hudson” and the media repeatedly followed suit by calling the accident a “miracle” since everyone survived the crash. But the outcome of the water ditching of an Airbus A320 into the Hudson River was no miracle. It was a carefully coordinated evolution and the culmination of years of experience on the part of the flight crew and the cabin crew, followed by the almost instant response from the New York Ferry boat operators, the FDNY, NYPD divers and the US Coast Guard. The final outcome was successful because everyone performed their duties as they had been trained to do.

Captain Chesley B. (“Sully”) Sullenberger, III has been heralded by the press as a hero, and it is unquestionable that he executed a “textbook” ditching of the A320. But as Sully himself noted, the successful outcome of this crash should be shared with his entire crew. First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles assisted with the ditching and was no doubt quite busy reading checklists, talking to ATC and calling out altitudes and airspeeds in the short time between the bird strikes and loss of thrust to touchdown in the water. Flight attendants Sheila Dail, Doreen Welsh and Donna Dent were also busy with their cabin preparations and the review of their verbal commands for the eventual water evacuation which they would perform masterfully.

The crew of flight 1549 had combined seniority of over 143 years. Like many other crews at US Airways, they were very experienced and were well prepared for any emergency scenario. The successful ditching and evacuation of 150 passengers was something they were trained to do many times over. My congratulations to Captain Sullenberger and his entire crew for a job well done!

Joseph P. Belotti

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