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U.S. Airways Plane Goes Down in Hudson River

Aired January 15, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to continue to stay on this breaking news story right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A U.S. Airways plane, you see it right there. It's in the Hudson River. It's an Airbus A-320, 135 people, we're told, on board. This is U.S. Airways Flight 1549 from La Guardia in New York City, scheduled to go to Charlotte, North Carolina.

And we're told shortly, after takeoff, it went into the Hudson River, which is not very far away, as you know, from La Guardia Airport. This is right off of Manhattan. And people all over Manhattan were watching this plane go into the water shortly after taking off from La Guardia.

We have no indications of injuries or anything along those lines, although, if you take a look at the pictures, you see lots -- lots of boats already and ferries all around that plane. You can see much of the plane still above the water, but some of it beginning to go underneath.

We don't know how deep that water is in the Hudson River right there. All right, there you see it, the plane right in the middle of your screen. And you see those boats, those ferries right around it. We're told by the Coast Guard, according to our own homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, that life vests have been thrown in to the Hudson River in case folks are trying to get out of that plane.

It's very cold in New York, in the 20s right now, and the temperature of that water in Hudson River only in the 40s. And even as we're watching what is going on, you see more vessels heading towards that U.S. Airways A-320 aircraft that was on the way from New York to La Guardia.

Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, is joining us on the phone right now.

You know, it was only the other day we were saying, Peter, there hadn't been a major airline disaster over the past two years. Then, a lot, we see this. But take a look at -- take a look at these pictures. You see that tail drifting over there, Peter.


I was at a luncheon yesterday, which the secretary of transportation was touting that record. And I remember a number of us up at the table knocking on wood. I guess it didn't work. This is just extraordinary, Wolf.

BLITZER: What -- what's the procedure for evacuating those -- we're told 135 people aboard that plane in the -- in the Hudson River right now? How does that work? Because it looks like that aircraft, if you watched it a few moments ago, was higher up in the water than it is right now.

GOELZ: Yes, it's no question. As I have been watching it, it's -- it's sinking lower. In -- in this case, the over-the--wings -- the over-the-wings exits would -- would -- would be the ones to use. And, you know, those are obscured right now.

BLITZER: So -- so, how do these people get out of that plane?

GOELZ: It's -- that's going to be the challenge. They have -- they have -- they have got to get out over the wing. And if the front or the rear doors are open, they're -- they're at least partially underwater.

BLITZER: Is it possible to open up the -- let's say the -- the front of the plane door, if the -- or both of those doors in the front of the plane, because it looks higher in the front, obviously, than it does near the -- the -- the tail in the back. Is it possible to open those doors if they are partially submerged?

GOELZ: You can get them open, but it's more of a challenge.


BLITZER: Because then -- because then the water starts rushing in?

GOELZ: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: So, under a circumstance like this, the flight attendants, the pilot, the co-pilot, what are they trained to do?

GOELZ: Well, they -- they are trained to -- to -- to get these doors open, but it's awfully difficult to train for a situation like this.

The majority of the training is -- is for -- is for on-the-ground accidents. And when you have got a -- a plane that's now even deeper submerged than it was just five minutes ago, there are -- there are some real challenges. We can only pray that -- that -- that a bunch of these passengers got out right away, before the plane started to really take on water.

BLITZER: All right, I want to go to our producer.

Peter, stand by for a moment -- Peter Goelz, formerly of the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board.

We have one of our producers. Adam Reiss is on the scene with us.

Adam, what are you seeing? Where are you?

ADAM REISS, CNN PRODUCER: Wolf, I'm just onshore, just south of 42nd Street (INAUDIBLE) 39th Street. We're indoors. Most of the passengers are in here. It's a multiagency rescue, police, fire, EMS.

Everybody seemed to be doing OK, at least those passengers who have made it inside. And speaking to some of the passengers inside here, they think everyone did get off.

BLITZER: Really?

REISS: They were -- they had left New York's La Guardia Airport. And shortly after departing, they -- some passengers said they heard a long bang. And then the -- the cockpit and the fuselage became quite smoky.

I'm with Alberto Panero (ph). He was on the plane.

And, Wolf, I'm going to you speak with him and get a little more about what exactly happened.

BLITZER: All right.

Alberto, are you there? Can you hear me OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I can hear you.

BLITZER: All right, tell us -- walk us through from the beginning what happened.

You were taking off from La Guardia. This is U.S. Air Flight 1549 from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina. We're told about 135 people on board, including crew and passengers, an Airbus A-320.

All right, so you take off from La Guardia. Then what happens?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, within -- within a couple of minutes, all of a sudden, you just heard a loud bang. And the plane shook a bit.

And, immediately, the -- you know, the -- you could smell like smoke or like fire. And, immediately, the plane basically just started turning in another direction. Although it didn't seem like it was out of control, we knew something was going on, because it -- like, we were turning back and, you know, nothing was happening. The smoke was still -- you could still smell it. No one knew what was going on.

All of a sudden, the captain came on and said, and brace for impact, and that's when we knew we were going down and it seemed like into the water. And -- and -- and we just hit -- and we just hit. And, somehow, the -- the plane you know, stayed afloat. And we were all able to get -- get on the raft.

And it's just incredible right now that everybody's still alive.

BLITZER: Alberto, tell us, which exits from the aircraft, from this A-320, did you manage to escape from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, initially, I went to the one that was right in front of me, but it was full, right on the wing. So, I actually entered the plane back and went to the front, where there was a craft, a -- one of those boats, that I was able to, you know, just sit in there and, you know, start helping people out, get people out. And then a lady with a gash, we helped her out and stuff like that.

BLITZER: So, in other words, those boats managed to get right up to the door, right up to the exit, and you could just literally, in effect, jump off the plane on to one of those boats?


BLITZER: You never had to really go into the water?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. Some people were on the wings, and they had to wait, but most of the people were able to get on to the rafts.

BLITZER: And -- and you -- but you say, based on what you saw, were you -- you one of the first people off or one of the last?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I was -- I was in the middle.

BLITZER: And do you -- you think that everybody managed to escape?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm pretty sure everybody got off, yes.

BLITZER: And, everybody, they got on to one of those boats and they were taken to one of these buildings near 42nd Street, where you are right now, in Manhattan; is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. They have -- everybody's here just trying to get everything situated.

Thank God, I mean, everybody pretty much is OK. It's -- I don't even know how to put it in words right now.

BLITZER: Well, thank God for that.


BLITZER: Were there -- I assume there were -- you know, it's a regular list of passengers, including a lot of children. Is that true? Were there little children, elderly?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, there were both. But I'm pretty sure both of them were able to get back on the raft, thankfully.

BLITZER: And get out.

So -- so, as we're looking at this picture of this U.S. Airways A-320 in the middle of the Hudson River over there surrounded by boats, it seems to be sinking as we speak right now. It's unclear if it's sinking all that rapidly.

But what -- what you're saying, Alberto, is that you believe everyone managed to exit the plane safely, to get on boats, and -- and -- and that plane right now, we -- we can only hope and pray, is totally empty; is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. I'm -- you know, I can't say 100 percent, but I'm pretty sure everybody managed to get off into one of the vessels or eventually -- I'm pretty sure everybody is back already.

BLITZER: When you escaped from the plane, did the flight attendants and the pilots tell you to put on those life -- those vests that, you know, you always hear about it before you...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, some people...

BLITZER: ... you take off, about the emergency procedures. You hope you never have to use them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I actually grabbed one of the seats. That was the first thing that came to my mind, just grabbing one of the seats and using that. Some people grabbed the yellow, you know, the inflatable ones. Other people grabbed the seats.

So, it seemed like immediately, there was boats coming over toward us. And they threw more of the orange life jackets at us and -- you know, and helped us to get to safety.

BLITZER: And was it pretty orderly, or was there pretty much of a panic as everyone tried to escape?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At first, there was a little bit of a panic, but there was a couple of people who just kind of took charge and just started yelling to calm down and just to get everybody out.

And once -- once, I think, people realized that we were going to be OK, everybody kind of calmed down and just tried to get outside of the boat, and -- you know, and get to safety, once, you know, you -- I mean, just after the impact alone, it seemed like, you know -- it felt just like a -- a car crash. You know, it was same thing, with the impact. And, then, all of a sudden, everybody -- it was just, get out, and get out now.

BLITZER: So, what I hear you saying is that there were basically two exits, in the front of the plane and over the wing; is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And I believe there was a third one in the back. But I didn't...


BLITZER: And people could get out through the back door?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but I didn't go -- I didn't see that. I went to the ones in the front.

BLITZER: After the pilot said and announced to everyone on board get ready for impact, what -- what happened then? Did -- did were they able to speak to you, the pilot and the flight attendants over the... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No. That was the only -- no, that the was only thing that was said. And, you know, immediately, some people started kind of -- it wasn't really yelling. It was a mixed emotion of yelling and crying.

But, for the most part, it got really quiet. And -- and it was just, you know -- before impact, I mean, I pretty much just said to myself, OK, I guess, you know, this is it. Let's do it. I didn't really know what to think at the moment. And, once it hit, I realized I was OK. And I'm like, OK, you know, get out now, before you start sinking.

BLITZER: Do you remember exactly what the -- the pilot said to you just before that plane crashed into the Hudson River?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it was -- all -- all that was said was, "Prepare for impact."

BLITZER: That was it, "Prepare for impact"?

And then you say that, after the impact, and everyone saw what was going on, there was a bit of a panic, but some people took charge and calmed everyone down. Were -- were those the flight attendants or were they passengers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't -- I can't -- I (INAUDIBLE) don't know who it was. At that point, everything was pretty dark and kind of smoky inside.

BLITZER: How long did it take between the time of impact, Alberto, and the time you managed to walk out, to get outside on to one of those boats and -- and -- and survive?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say, in less than a minute, I was in -- I would say 30 seconds to a minute-and-a-half, you know, people -- everybody -- I mean (INAUDIBLE) And as soon as the impact was made and kind of everybody realized we were kind of OK, the first thing was like, OK, get to the exits.

And someone just -- whoever was there started opening them up. And people just started getting to the exits. So, I guess hearing that little speech hearing over and over every time they get a flight, I guess it (INAUDIBLE) into somebody's brain.


BLITZER: I guess it pays -- it pays, obviously, to be closer to those exits on these kinds of flights.

But, thank God, it sounds like almost everyone, if not everyone, on board that plane managed -- managed to get off that plane safely, very impressive work on the part of the crew and the passengers in making sure that people got out under those emergency circumstances.

So, you have -- you have had a few moments, Alberto, right now to reflect on what's just happened to you and your fellow passengers and the crew of this U.S. Airways plane that went down in the Hudson River. Give us -- give us a thought.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, and thank the lord, and thank -- thank the pilot.

I mean, I -- I can't believe that, somehow, he managed to land that plane safely. You know, that's all I can say. And I hope that everybody who's got family on the plane, you know, can at least think that, you know, everybody here is pretty much OK. And this is a near- death experience that, thankfully, has not turned that way.

BLITZER: Thankfully, indeed. And thank God for that.

Alberto Panero (ph), one of the passengers who was aboard that U.S. Airways flight, I want you to stand by.

Peter Goelz, formally of the NTSB, is with us, as well, the National Transportation Safety Board.

You just heard, Peter -- and our viewers in the United States and around the world, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM -- just heard an incredible story from this passenger.

Peter, what do you think?

Unfortunately, I'm -- I'm not getting Peter Goelz.

But Adam Reiss, our producer who's there with the passengers near 42nd Street in Manhattan -- you're looking at these live pictures of what's going on there.

Adam, do you have another passenger there with you who survived this crash?

REISS: I do, Wolf.

Before I give you Fred Baretta (ph), I want to just sort of paint a picture for you here in the rescue area. Most of the people here are draped in blankets, shivering, obviously very, very relieved, Wolf, just an incredible experience they just went through. There's a lot of hugs.

We're still seeing people come in out from the water. I just saw one gentleman without a shirt. And I saw another gentleman with some blood on his shirt. But everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, just grateful to be alive.

And now I'm going to put you on with Fred Baretta (ph). He was also on the flight.

BLITZER: All right, Fred, this is...


BLITZER: This is Wolf Blitzer. I'm -- I'm really thrilled that you and your fellow passengers managed to escape this U.S. Airways plane that made this emergency landing in the Hudson River. Apparently, we're being told preliminary -- preliminary information, according to the FAA, says it looks like a bird strike, meaning either a bird or a flock of birds, hit the jet engines.

What did it feel like? Tell us what -- what -- what was going on from your perspective. First of all, where in the plane were you sitting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wolf, I was in seat 16-A, which was right actually over the engine that was flaming.

And we were still on the assent. And the engine blew out. And then the pilot turned around, made a -- made a line for the -- the river. There was just a lot of silence. And, obviously, everyone was just waiting to hear what the pilot would -- would say.

And a few moments went by, and he just said, "Prepare for impact." And then we went into the water. And I have got to tell you, I have flown in a lot of planes. That was a phenomenal landing on the part of the pilots. I really want to thank them. And, by the grace of God, I think -- I think everyone made it off the plane.

BLITZER: Well, that's what we're hearing. Your fellow passenger, Alberto Panero (ph), was just on with us.

All right, Fred, so -- so, walk us through exactly what happened from the time of impact to, when this U.S. Airways jetliner landed in the Hudson River, and the time you managed to get out of your seats and then get to an exit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we -- we hit the river. And it was quite an impact.

The plane stayed together. Probably, a lot of folks were worried it might split up, but it didn't. And it was sort of (INAUDIBLE) with the nose kind of sticking out. And people were very orderly. There wasn't really a lot of panic. And we made it out the exit doors on to the wing.

And then people were trying to make their way to the -- to the rafts that were extending from the plane's fuselage. A few people went in the water, but I think they all got out. And we just were really looking for the boats at that point and helicopters.

You know, obviously, if you're going to crash a plane, the Hudson River's a good place to do it.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of ferries, a lot of boats in the area.

What was it like when -- when he said, "Prepare for impact," did everyone brace? What did you do to prepare for impact?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think a lot of people started praying and really just -- just collecting themselves. It was quite stunning.

There -- we knew there wasn't a lot of time, because we were quite close to the ground at that point, and we could -- we could tell that the decent was -- was somewhat rapid. So, I think people were very quiet. And, really, we weren't sure if they were trying to make it for the runway (INAUDIBLE) river. But right after he said, "Prepare for impact," it was pretty evident that we were not going to make a runway.

I think that's when folks were -- obviously, the intensity heated up quite a bit at that moment.

BLITZER: Well, when you hit the water of the Hudson River, was it a relatively smooth hit, or was it a -- was it a pounding? What was that like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a -- it was -- well, it's hard to describe and compare it, because it's the first time I have been through it.

But it was, I think, pretty intense. It -- it didn't last long. But the river is very, very smooth. The pilot extended the flaps. I don't know if he put the gear down or not, but I will tell you, it was just a great landing. I really -- I was really expecting the plane would careen or flip over or break apart. And that obviously didn't happen.

And it did just kind of jockey back and forth. And at that -- you know, we weren't really sure how long that was going to last. It seemed like it lasted for an eternity. But then we were all making our way off the plane. And that was a relieving moment.

BLITZER: Did it feel -- did it feel like birds or a bird was sucked into that -- one of the engines that caused this? Because that's the preliminary guess we're getting from the FAA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It -- I didn't see that or witness that. And I was probably in a position to, as I was literally right behind the left wing and -- and very close to the -- obviously, it's a window seat.

I didn't see or hear anything. I did hear the engine sort of flame out. It looked like it was either on fire or smoke was coming from it. You could smell the smoke. It wasn't clear if the right engine was functioning (INAUDIBLE) or not. But...

BLITZER: You were on the -- you were on the left side -- you were on the of the plane. And you could see that engine, where there was smoke and some fire. But you -- could you see the other engine as well?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I think, as far as I know, just the left engine was -- was -- was having trouble.

So, I don't know what really is the story with the right engine.

BLITZER: And when you were taking off from La Guardia, I don't know if you know if you were taking off to the west, the east or which direction you were actually heading. Do you have any idea?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't, Wolf, actually. I know -- I know we were heading to Charlotte, which was home, but I don't know which direction that we were actually flying.


We're showing pictures -- a picture right now, a still photo from the Associated Press, Fred, of folks on -- standing on the wings, after they have escaped from this aircraft. And they're clearly waiting for a boat to come rescue them.

I assume you were -- you were one of those -- one of those folks.


I was -- I was standing on the left wing for a little while. And then it was evident that the rafts on the left side of the plane were filling up. So, I actually went back in the plane with...


BLITZER: Yes, we have -- we're also showing...


BLITZER: Fred, hold on a second.

I want to tell our viewers what they are seeing. They are seeing passengers getting on some of these boats after they have been rescued, after they got off the aircraft. And now they're being brought -- this is videotape courtesy of our affiliate WABC. They -- they get off the plane, and then they get on to these boats.

But go ahead and walk us through that, those few moments. That must have been terrifying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was. It was very intense and an experience I hope I never -- or any of us have to experience again. But I'm just grateful to God.

I think -- I don't know for sure, but I think that everyone got off the plane. There were a few injuries, but I think everyone survived. And I think that's miraculous.

BLITZER: Our producer, by the way, Mike Allars (ph), has been in touch with sources familiar with what's going on.

One of the sources say the pilot reported a double bird strike. It was unclear, the source said, whether that meant one bird in each of the two engines or two birds in one engine. The pilot said he needed to go back, the source said. An aircraft controller started to give him clearance to do so.

In other words, it was -- it was clearly, according to this pilot, at least a bird, or a couple of birds, or some -- some -- maybe even some more, that caused this plane to -- to start to go down. He said he was trying to go to Teterboro, which is a private airport in New Jersey, wanted to head there, but it was -- he obviously couldn't make it, and they had to go into the Hudson River. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it -- I don't know if it was a double bird strike. But it -- I always thought that the plane could fly with one engine, so there must have -- something must have happened to the right engine. And that's a plausible possibility, for a double bird strike.

BLITZER: Was -- was the plane pretty much full? Do you know? Do you remember when you took off if there were any empty seats?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the plane was mostly full. I don't recall seeing any empty seats.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what we're hearing. The plane was pretty much full, 130, or 140, or maybe Close to 150 people on board this U.S. Airways Flight 1549.

I -- I guess the first thing you did when you -- when you got into that building and you found yourself safe and sound with your fellow passengers, Fred, is call up some of your -- your family; is that right?


I first called my wife. And, then, right after that, my assistant called me, which was nice. I got a couple other phone calls (INAUDIBLE) people just checking in. And we're just scattered here kind of in a waiting area, drinking coffee, and just trying to warm up.

BLITZER: Did you -- so, I take it you got your cell phone out with you; is that right?


BLITZER: You're cell phone managed to survive with you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I think they're -- I think everyone survived.

BLITZER: With -- well, your cell phone, I want to -- when you got off, you started running towards the exit, did you have a chance to grab your coats, or you just ran with whatever you had?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I don't think anyone was grabbing coats or -- or handbags.

People were really just trying to get off. I -- I actually forgot to grab a life jacket or a seat cushion, so I -- I kind of had to hang out in the plane and try to find one. That was a little bit unnerving. But, once I found that, I was off. I might have been -- I think I was one of the last ones off the plane, actually.

BLITZER: Where you are now, near this building at 42nd Street in Manhattan, Fred, everyone has been brought there, all the passengers who were aboard this flight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I'm sorry, Wolf. Could you repeat that? I'm having trouble hearing you.

BLITZER: Are all the passengers together with you now in this building near 42nd Street in Manhattan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I believe all the -- they're retaining all the passengers here.

BLITZER: And -- and has anyone from U.S. Airways or from the government spoken to you about what -- what happens next?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're talking to us now, and they're asking us to kind of move down and have a seat.

BLITZER: And they will brief you on what to do next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, I'm -- I'm struggling to. I apologize. It's hard to kind of hear you right now.

BLITZER: No, I understand.

All right, well, Fred Baretta (ph), I'm glad you survived what I have been saying must have been a really terrifying ordeal. I'm glad you and your fellow passengers -- at least it looks like everyone managed to get out safely from this U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which was taking off from La Guardia in New York City, heading towards Charlotte, North Carolina.

We're told different numbers. At least 135, maybe 140, 145 people were on board, the plane pretty much full taking off, and the preliminary -- the preliminary information indicating that a bird or birds got into engines, and there was smoke and fire. And, all of a sudden, this pilot had to land someplace, and landed in the Hudson River.

Those doors were opened very, very quickly. And everyone on board -- or at least, the initial reports, everyone on board managed to get out, get on to some boats, and were brought to safety in Manhattan.

Abbi Tatton is watching this online.

Abbi, tell us a little bit about this aircraft.

All right, unfortunately, we don't have Abbi. We don't have Abbi. Well, we will get to Abbi in a moment.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, has been on the phone,talking to authorities on what happened.

Are you getting the same kind of picture, Jeanne, as we're getting from these eyewitnesses, these passengers who were actually on board and who survived? Are you getting the same thing from authorities?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me tell you what the FAA is saying.

The FAA is saying that this Airbus 320, a U.S. Airways Flight, number 1549, taking off from New York, bound for Charlotte, took off from runway four at La Guardia and was airborne only for about three minutes before it went down into the water.

According to the FAA, eyewitnesses said they saw this plane hit a flock of birds. There also, as you have mentioned, have been other sources who have said the pilot radioed in saying that he had a double bird strike.

Now, of course, birds are the bane of airports all across the United States. Many of them take measures to try and shoo them away from their perimeters, some of them with loud cannons that -- that -- where they hope the noise will scare the birds off.

But it is going to take a long investigation to get to the bottom of this. Probably, the NTSB has announced that it is sending a go-team to begin the investigation of this.

And, of course, the rescue efforts appear to have been remarkably successful. There are number of ferries that operate in the harbor area. They apparently came to the aid of the people on this aircraft immediately. The -- some -- according to the U.S. Coast Guard, some of those ferries were throwing life jackets into the water, so the people who were on the wings and so forth could put them on, to make sure they were safe.

I have to tell you, these pictures remind me of one thing, Wolf. And that's the -- the -- the crash that we all remember in the Potomac River, where an aircraft went right down across the 14th Street Bridge into icy, icy waters here in Washington, D.C. That crash did not have such a successful outcome.

If -- if the passengers who you have been talking to are correct, there appears to have been no loss of life in this incident. But no one at an official level is confirming that. They are saying, however, several law enforcement agencies, Department of Homeland Security, FBI, all saying, no indication at all that this is any kind of security-related incident, everything pointing at this point to birds.

BLITZER: Yes, birds can be -- can be a horrible, horrible problem. That Air Florida disaster 27 years ago in the chilly waters of the Potomac River, that flight taking off from National Airport, as it was then called, now Reagan National, and, within a few seconds, landing right near the 14th Street Bridge in the Potomac River.

Seventy-nine people were on board. Seventy-four of them died on that horrible day 27 years ago.

Soledad O'Brien is on the scene for us in New York.

Soledad, what are you seeing? What are hearing?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, mostly, what I can see is the tail of this plane.

And it is surrounded by ferries and smaller boats, Coast Guard and police vessels. They have really been shooing the hundreds of people who have come out to line the -- the pathway along the water (INAUDIBLE) 12th Street in Manhattan to get a better look, and some of them saying, "Hey, is that a plane in the water?" because we are incredibly close to where it has actually landed in the water.

It's drifting or being pulled -- it's hard to really tell, because it's surrounded by ferries -- very, very quickly. I mean, for me to keep up, I actually have to walk at -- at quite a clip.

And the police officers have set up a perimeter right near this big sports arena, because what they're going to do is bring some of the injured folks in there. And they have been trying to clear all the pedestrians and everybody who is just sitting around watching, getting them out of the way.

And, really, 12th Street, for blocks and blocks and blocks, is now just absolutely full of ambulances. It looks like they are expecting a large number of people to need some -- some serious help.

And, as Susan (ph) pointed out a moment ago, it is brutally cold. So (INAUDIBLE) who are out even just here, like I am, watching, it is freezing cold. (INAUDIBLE) get them out of the water faster, even people who are not injured certainly will be in big trouble.


We're looking at these live pictures coming in for our viewers, Soledad. And you see that plane. If you've been watching our coverage the past 45 minutes or so, you see that plane sinking and sinking and sinking, slowly but surely.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: It's taking on water and it's going down. But we're told, at least according to two passengers who survived, they believe everyone on board managed to escape either the front exits, the rear exits, or those emergency exits over the wings and get on some of those boats that quickly hurried over to the scene and take them to safety, which is very good news, because if there were more people on board, they would be in deep trouble right now if they couldn't get those doors open.

But that plane is going down even as we speak, but we hope and believe that everyone on board is off and safe.

The plane went down in the Hudson River, near, we're told -- the passengers are near 42nd Street. Is that the closest sort of cross street where you are right now?

O'BRIEN: You know, I'm headed way past 42nd Street. I am way down south of 23rd Street, which is where I started, and I probably walked another 10 or 12 blocks south since I hopped on the phone, because it is really moving fast.

And again, all I can see now is the tip of the tail. It's not very far off land, as you can probably tell from the pictures, but it's moving at a clip of several blocks a minute, frankly. And it has -- at first, the report that I was hearing, it was at 50th Street. Then I looked out the window I could see it at 23rd Street, and so I ran out to take a look.

BLITZER: So what you're saying, Soledad -- what you're saying is that aircraft is not stationary. The tides, the water, the waves, it's moving it down from 50th down the 23rd Street, basically. Is that what's happening?

O'BRIEN: You know, it's hard to tell, Wolf, if they have somehow attached something to the plane in order to drag it. It is moving so quickly, that I am actually almost running in order to keep up and be parallel along with this plane, because it is really -- it's really moving very quickly. And as you say, every moment that goes by, you see this thing literally sinking even further down. At first you could see the windows, and now I'm really -- not really able to see a lot of the windows and I can only see the tip of the plane.

BLITZER: So, in other words, it may be that that plane might be towed or something right now, even as they're trying to save the wreckage.

All right. Hold on a moment for a second, Soledad, because I want to play what a passenger just said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, everyone's fine. You know there's some ladies -- there's a lot of survivors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was it like when people were initially trying to get out of the plane? Was it pandemonium?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scary. There was a lady with her baby, I remember, on my left hand shoulder, and she was trying to crawl over the seats, and I just remember saying, you know, women and children first; you know?

And she -- thanks a lot. And she kind of crawled in front and she got off. So it was good, man.

I tell you what, it says a lot about people that -- that was scary, you know. And people kept calm, and it was cool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your name, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name's Jeff (ph). The last name's Kolodjay.

Look, I don't want to be no superhero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff (ph), can you just spell your name?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was your raft sinking?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's that? Yes, everyone's raft was sinking.

Ours wasn't that bad, no. Because, you know what? The guys -- no, I'm lying when I said that.

The people from the ferry threw us a knife and we cut it away because we smelled a lot of gas on the plane. But other people's rafts were sinking a lot quicker than ours.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said that the pilot had indicated...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, he said, "Brace for impact." He knew we were going down. And we came in this way right here and I said, "Oh, man, we're going to hit the water."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You felt he did a good job in letting you know and avoiding the buildings?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't say whether he did or didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you from New York?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm from Connecticut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So what are you doing here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're flying out for a golf trip, so obviously it's cut short our trip.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe everybody got off?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jeff (ph), do you believe everybody got off the plane?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Jeff (ph) Kolodjay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Norwalk, Connecticut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And tell me what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The engine blew out about three minutes into the flight. It circled around. I saw we were in line with the Hudson. And that's the Hudson over there, right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the guy said -- the captain came on and said, "Look, we're going down. Brace for impact." And everyone kind of looked at each other and said some prayers; you know? I said about five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys, and we hit the water. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did you get back on land?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did you get off the plane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little organization, lot of fear and lot of luck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who got the life raft?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone from...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some people injured.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff (ph), do you need to go to the hospital? Are you all right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm cool, man.


BLITZER: All right. So there you have another passenger who survived.

The FAA tells our producer, Mike Allers (ph), that all passengers are alive. We don't know the exact number. We think at least 135 people were aboard, maybe closer to 150 were aboard, but it looks like everyone managed to escape.

You see that plane, that US Airways Flight 1549. It's an Airbus 320. That plane is sinking fairly rapidly.

It's been less than an hour now that we've been on the air and that plane -- that plane is definitely going down.

I'm getting some instructions, but I just want -- I want to go to Mary Snow, our correspondent in New York.

Mary, you're on the scene right now as well, right?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. And there are some amazing stories coming out of this crash.

We are on the corner of 40th Street and 12th Avenue, near where the plane first went down. I just spoke to a passenger aboard that plane, Jeff Kolodjay (ph). He is 31 years old.

He says he was sitting in seat 22-A. He said there was an explosion that was heard on the plane, that the pilot told the passengers on the plane to brace for impact as they were flying above the Hudson River, and Jeff Kolodjay (ph) saying that the plane, when it went down in the water, he said it was remarkable that everyone stayed so calm. In terms of how he got out of the water, he said that he walked through about four feet and it started rising, that he was up to his waist, but he said everyone remained calm throughout the ordeal. But he said that there was definitely an explosion and a fire before that plane went down.

And just to set the scene here, Wolf, along the west side, the plane came down in this area around 40th Street. The last report it had been floating down river. And it's certainly cold here. It's about 21 degrees. And medical teams have been racing down the west side to catch up with that plane and also get everybody on board.

The exact status of all the passengers not clear from where I'm standing. We're going to head down town, closer to where that plane is now.

BLITZER: You know, and it's amazing, Mary, to see how fast this A320, this Airbus, this US Airways plane, is actually sinking now into the Hudson River. But you know what? We're told almost 150 people were on board that plane and everyone apparently got out safe and sound as that pilot touched down on the Hudson River.

Within a few seconds, they opened those emergency exits, the front door, the rear door, the door over the wings. And folks, with a little burst of panic at the start, then began to walk and get outside. They grabbed their life vests, they grabbed their seat cushions, to make sure that if they had to jump into the water, they'd have some protection there.

Chad Myers is on the scene -- he's not on the scene, but knows what's going on in terms of the very cold air and water temperature in the Hudson River area -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that water very, very close to 32 degrees. There's a buoy that is just down from Lady Liberty. It has about 40-degree water there, but that's mixing in with a little bit of ocean water.

Where this plane originally landed, on up around 50th Street, certainly no ocean water was coming in there. So we know that this is the water literally coming out of the Adirondacks, straight down from Albany, barely liquid, at 32.5 degrees, Wolf.

I also have a picture of what happened to the plane. It left LaGuardia at Runway 4, turned to the north, and headed on up -- a typical departure. Turned to the left.

I don't know where in this place we did have that explosion. They said it actually exploded -- the noise was heard before the big turn, the big turn down the Hudson River. And right there, this was the last ping we got from the plane.

It was at 300 feet in the sky doing 153 knots. The next ping that we would have received, the plane was in the water, and it was floating down river. The reason why I think the plane is losing a lot of elevation now, is sinking, is because the authorities have opened up the front doors. Those front doors are allowing the water to pour in from the rear doors that are already open.

For a while, with the front doors remaining closed, there was just an air bubble inside. That air bubble was keeping that plane afloat.

Still think probably the way that plane went down in such a very slight angle, witnesses say that he really just eased the plane into the water. The bottom of the plane did not come apart, and so that compartment below that would be holding the luggage, holding other things, still full of air.

That's why the plane didn't go down in a big hurry. Because the plane didn't break up, all of these people are alive to tell the story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's an amazing story. And I want to play this little clip of what one of those survivors, an eyewitness, just told us.

Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have one with me here. His name is Angel. He tells me that he saw the plane coming down over the Hudson.

Is that right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Tell me exactly what you saw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From my window, I saw the plane. It was coming down below the radar zone. I thought it might be a terrorist attack or something, but the plane looked like it had difficulty trying to get off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trying to gain altitude, you're saying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trying to gain altitude. But as it got closer to the water, I saw the pilot.

He made a last-ditch effort to try to gain altitude. And he did that for a certain -- for a few seconds, and then the plane just came down and plopped on the water. Had he not done that, he would have damaged the fuselage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know the plane was coming down. Was this a relatively soft landing considering the speed the plane was traveling at?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had he not made that last-ditch effort, it would have not been a soft landing. It would have damaged the fuselage and endangered the lives of those people on the plane. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you were telling me also that you tried to call 911 but...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tried to call 911, and I tried to call the news channels, but all the phones were blocked. I couldn't get through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Angel, thank you very much.

Angel telling us that he saw the plane coming down.


BLITZER: All right, so there you have it, one of the eyewitness who saw what's going on.

We have another eyewitness. Adam Weiner is on the phone joining us.

Adam, where were you when you saw what was going on?

ADAM WEINER, WITNESSED PLANE GO DOWN: Well, my office is at 1515 Broadway, so we were in a conference room that overlooks the Hudson River. And so, basically, we were on a phone call, and I see the plane, you know, slowly gliding into the Hudson.

BLITZER: Did it look like the engines were off? I don't know if you could tell, because when you say gliding, it implies that the pilot had shut off the engine.

WEINER: It did look -- it looked like it had no power. At the very last minute, it pulled up a little bit, but, you know, essentially, it looked like it was a slow plane that was coming in for a water landing.

BLITZER: And then it just sort of skimmed off the top of the water until it stopped? Is that what you saw?

WEINER: Yes, it hit the water. You know, it was a massive spray of water, you know, which kind of covered the plane. And then next thing you know, the plane is just floating there in the river.

BLITZER: And so the belly of the plane hit first, not the wings; right?

WEINER: The belly, correct.

BLITZER: So it was smooth, in effect, relatively speaking, landing. And then were you watching? How long did it take before you saw passengers escaping to other boats that had come there rather quickly and getting on top of those wings?

WEINER: Well, it may have been 20 seconds, and we saw the door blow off, and then what looked like a life raft open up. We were a little ways away, so you couldn't see individual people, but it looked like people were on the wings. One thing we did see was the ferry boats immediately left the piers and were there in probably less than two minutes. BLITZER: Less than two minutes. And then you saw people just streaming outside, getting outside the plane?

WEINER: Yes. I mean, it looked like people were standing on the wings, and then the ferry boats you could see were almost on top of the plane. And probably -- you know, obviously they were getting on to the boats then.

BLITZER: Do you remember by any chance the exact time this all was going down?

WEINER: It was probably right about 3:30. It was a conference call we were on. It started at 3:15 and was over at 3:30.

BLITZER: About 3:30 -- yes, go ahead.

WEINER: Well, I was just going to say we were -- you know, the people on the phone couldn't believe what we were telling them, but we were like, "I think a plane just crashed into the Hudson River." And these people were in L.A. and they were like, "What did you just say?" It was quite an interesting conference call.

BLITZER: I can imagine.

All right. Adam, thanks very much.

WEINER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi Tatton is here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

All right. I know you're looking at what's happening online, but give us a little flavor of this plane's -- the route that it was forced to take.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: We've mapped this on Google Earth, Wolf, so we can show viewers just how this went down.

The information from FlightAware, a Web site that tracks the path of planes, shows that this plane was in the sky just for less than six minutes before it went down. Starting off at LaGuardia airport there, the FlightAware track that's shown online shows it going slightly to the north, and then heading south.

We know that the crash happened there in the Hudson River, around 48th Street there, but what we're hearing from our people on the ground is that plane now drifting or being towed -- that's unclear at this point -- moving down the Hudson River. But we obviously know that this is a very busy area. So many watching this from their offices, from their homes in Manhattan, and recording that and posting the photos online that we're looking at.

And we can see just how this went down. But the information from FlightAware shows that the Airbus was scheduled to take off at 3:04 p.m. The actual time of departure, 3:26 p.m. The schedule time, it was supposed to be in the air one hour, forty-four minutes, heading to Charlotte, but less than six minutes before this went down in the Hudson.

BLITZER: All right. So when that eyewitness said around 3:30, he was absolutely right, Adam Weiner.

All right. Thanks very much, Abbi.

Brian Todd is taking a look at what apparently was the cause of this crash, birds.

A lot of people, Brian, are sort of surprised when they hear that birds could cause this kind of disaster, but it's not unheard of.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's certainly not unheard of, Wolf, and there have been several deadly crashes attributed to bird strikes. We know that.

I just talked to a couple of different experts from the NTSB and one former air traffic controller, Doug Frelich (ph), who is head of safety for the Air Traffic Controllers Union. He's talking about the bird situation there, especially in New York. He said it's a huge problem in New York area airports, more so at Kennedy than LaGuardia, but both of them, with their proximity to water, he says that's a huge problem for planes taking off and landing.

This one, as we were told, might have hit a flock of geese. He says that around that area, that seagulls are a huge problem, that pilots are always wary of those birds flying around.

And as Jeanne mentioned earlier, they do take some precautionary measures to try to scare these birds away, but of course you can't always do that. And if you're in mid-flight, you know, literally anything can happen.

A couple of other things.

On the characteristics of this plane, according to Vernon Gross (ph), a former NTSB investigator, this Airbus A320, the engines of this plane are below the fuselage. They would have been the first parts of this plane, according to Vernon Gross (ph), to hit the water. And given that, and the fact that, you know, with the bird strike and all of this, both Vernon Gross (ph) and Doug Frelich (ph) say it is amazing that this plane did not break up. They really believe that the pilot, whoever he or she is, did an extraordinary job of getting that plane down.

One expert told us that, actually, in a water landing like this, you've got to be very careful to not let the wings touch. You could get cart-wheeling there. You've got to keep the nose up. It looks like this pilot might have done everything right here.

BASH: And birds have a history of bringing down even larger planes than this Airbus A320. They can be very, very dangerous, birds, if they get sucked in, or they just go into the engines and cause those engines to start smoking and getting on fire. And apparently, that's what happened this time. I have to tell you, Brian, that this pilot and the co-pilot, they were -- obviously they saw there was a problem as they were heading off from LaGuardia. They were flying over a very populated area, first in Queens, and then in Manhattan.

There's no real place in Manhattan for an emergency landing. You know, it's so jam-packed, and Central Park is not really usable.

Very smart, obviously, if he's trying to come up with an area to save his passengers and the crew to make that emergency landing in the Hudson River. Open those doors as quickly as possible and get those folks out of the plane.

TODD: Absolutely. Doug Frelich (ph) said that in this situation, if your engines, one or both, have been killed by hitting birds, and the engines are shut down, your first option, if you can't keep flying, if you can't get back to the airstrip, is to try to put down in water, but you can't really head for any land unless it's a wide open area. And clearly, in New York and that area, there's nothing on land that's not going to be heavily populated. You've got to head for water, he said.

And again, an extraordinary job by everybody we talked to about this. An extraordinary job by the pilot in getting that plane to land the way he or she did. And not -- again, the fact that these engines are below the fuselage, they would have been the first thing to hit the water when this plane touched, according to the experts we spoke to. Extraordinary that this plane did not break up.

BLITZER: And you've got to give that pilot and co-pilot an enormous amount of credit, the flight attendants, everyone aboard that US Airways flight, the passengers for staying cool and getting out alive.

Wow. What a story.

Brian, stand by.

Deborah Feyerick is in New York. She's on the scene for us as well.

Deb, what are you picking up?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'm talking to a lot of first responders, a lot of law enforcement officials who are on the ground near the scene of that accident. It appears that the plane did hit a flock of geese, it went down near the Intrepid Air and Space Museum. Both engines failed.

Police launches responded immediately, as did commercial ferries from both sides of New York and New Jersey. And they got to the plane almost immediately. And that speed may have contributed to the fact that so many people, all those people, got off the plane safely.

Now, we're told by an official with the airports that both engines failed. The pilot was able to maintain control of that plane, as you're hearing eyewitnesses recount. When the bird hit that engine, what I'm told happens is that the engine begins to almost chew itself up and basically shuts itself off. It's just broken. That's why that gliding motion into the water.

But law enforcement officials, several of them who are there now and were there earlier, say that, in fact, the pilots are major heroes in all of this because this could have been catastrophic. They were operating without engines. It appears both of them failed. But the pilots were able to land that plane.

And again, the response from those launches, the commercial ferries -- I don't know if you noticed the Circle Line cruise, which I'm sure a lot of tourists take when they come to Manhattan. That was out there, also, right by that plane.

So, again, people saw what was happening and immediately mobilized. And that's why so many people's lives were saved. I was told by one official earlier that they were thinking about sending divers into the water, but they do believe that they did get everyone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What an amazing story that everyone apparently survived this crash. And you can see that still photo of folks on the wing. It looks like they're walking on water, if you will. They're walking on a wing of that Airbus A320 aircraft that went down over the Hudson River, and they're waiting to get on top of one of those boats that managed to get to the scene very quickly and save all those folks' lives.

Jeanne Meserve is telling us that the U.S. Coast Guard immediately got involved and rescued 35 people aboard some Coast Guard vessels as well.

Deb Feyerick, you know, hard to believe that -- all of us fly all the time, and we listen to those flight attendants give us the instructions at the beginning of a flight and tell us what to do, but you know what? A lot of the folks don't pay attention.

This is a real lesson. And folks, pay attention. When you take off and you hear those flight attendants tell you what to do in case of an emergency, even though the chances are tiny that you'll ever have to use those instructions, in this particular case, they were necessary.

FEYERICK: Well, absolutely. And as a matter of fact, I did a story on that, on how you escape one of these crashes. And really, time is of the essence, because you don't know exactly what's going to happen with the plane.

You're told never to inflate that life vest before you exit the plane, because if the plane begins to sink and the life vest is up, you may not be able to escape. Everybody needing to move towards those doors as quickly, as calmly as possible. Listening to some of those eyewitnesses who were on the plane and who managed to survive, it really sounds, in fact, everybody did stay calm.

Again, the pilot, the crew that was on board that plane, they are -- people say, you know, you joke about your soda, about the nuts and the cookies, but really, those people are on board in case something like this does happen. It is their job to keep everyone calm, to give directions, to move everyone to the door. And the calmer you stay -- but you have to get off those planes quickly.

And that is something that experts will tell you. You've got about 60 seconds to get off those planes because you never know exactly what is going to happen.

And so it appears that when that plane went down, people were able to get out, able to et on to the wings. And then those ferries, which you see -- you can see some there in the foreground, the Fire Department is out there, also the Circle Line that's there -- were able to get to those passengers. That is a really big deal.

And one thing you may notice is that they're standing on the wings and they don't have anything. That is another very big point. When you are in an airline crash, you've got to leave everything behind.

The goal is simply to get yourself out of that plane as quickly as possible. It appears that that's what happened, because right now, ,law enforcement officials are telling me that there appear to have been no fatalities, that everybody got off that plane safely.

BLITZER: Yes, 150 people or so, passengers and crewmembers, Deb, aboard that plane. And there's no indication there were any serious injuries and no indication of any deaths. What an amazing, amazing story.

We're standing by. Right at the top of the hour, someone from US Airways is going to hold a news conference. We have a live picture coming in from Tempe, Arizona, where I believe the CEO of US Airways is going to be briefing us on all the specifics, what happened, what was involved, how many people precisely were on board, the extent of injuries.

One of the eyewitnesses said that they did see some blood, but we're told that it looks like if there were injuries, they weren't all that serious under the circumstances. Some injuries, obviously, to be expected in this kind of a situation, but fortunately, it looks like everyone, all the crewmembers and all the passengers, got off safely from this aircraft.

We'll go to that news conference once it starts, the US Airways news conference. We haven't heard anything official from US Airways yet, but we will be momentarily.

There you can see highlighted there in the middle of your screen that plane on what happened right there.

Chad Myers is watching this as closely as anyone.

And you know, it's amazing that Queens, New York, not very far from Manhattan or the Hudson River. Within a few moments, that plane was taking off for Charlotte and winds up in the Hudson River -- Chad.

MYERS: Yes. And it was very close to all of those ferries that go from Hoboken over to Manhattan. And that, I think, probably saved a lot of time.

Those ferries were on the way. As soon as they saw that plane come down, they were on the way.

Something else I think is quite extraordinary. Planes are still departing from LaGuardia. Now, that just kind of blows my mind, that they're not even missing a beat. Planes still leaving and still coming down the Hudson River on their way to their destination.

You would think that it's like, OK, let's wait, make sure everything's OK. But everything seems to be just kind of business as usual there at LaGuardia.

BLITZER: Well, it's one of these freak things.


BLITZER: Some geese, or whatever. They get sucked into the engines, the engines are destroyed. There's smoke and there's fire. The plane loses those engines and the pilot has to make an emergency decision, and he brings that plane down.

MYERS: Yes. And it was an amazing landing because the bottom of the plane did not get torn up If it was torn up, it was like kicking the bottom out of a boat. That airplane would have gone right down to the bottom of the Hudson. It did not.

It still is floating. And it gave all those people all that extra time to get out of that plane safely.

BLITZER: You know, when you take a look at what could have been -- and thank God, Chad, it wasn't -- that the cold, frigid waters of the Hudson River -- it's pretty cold, and the air temperature in the New York City area as well. You know, you're only chilled, if you will, if you'll forgive the pun, to think about what could have happened.

MYERS: Thirty-two-degree water. About 32.5. So literally, barely liquid.

I'm not seeing any icebergs floating down, but actually, at that temperature, there could be. The air temperature 21; the wind-chill 7 degrees above zero. Literally, you only have moments to survive in water that's 32 degrees, even with a life jacket on. You are going into hypothermia very, very quickly.

It does not appear like that happened to anyone so far. We're not getting any reports of that. Amazing. They were standing on the wings. They were rescued by those little inflatable boats, taken to the ferries and taken to dry land.

Amazing rescue there.

BLITZER: Amazing. And you know, you've got to praise everyone for their really, really smart, smart reaction to this potential disaster.

Susan Candiotti is now on the scene for us. Susan, where exactly are you? I'm assuming the west side of Manhattan, not far from the Hudson River.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am on the banks of the Hudson River, Wolf. And we're just south of the Intrepid air carrier, which is now a museum, as you know. So there's a lot of activity going on as we speak, a lot of rescue vehicles, ambulances here, although they do not appear to be treating anyone on the scene at this time.

I can tell you that not long after we arrived, and shortly after it happened, we spoke remarkably with a man who got off that plane. And he said he himself was amazed at how calm everyone was.

You may have heard from him by now, a passenger from Connecticut who was seated in the 22nd row. And he said that he can remember the pilot saying, "Brace yourselves." Everyone, he said, remained very calm.

He heard what sounded like might have been an explosion that might have come from one of the plane's engines. This is an Airbus 320.

Then he said the plane hit the water. He exited near the front of the plane. Everyone came out that way.

They got into inflatable rafts. He said they allowed the women and any children to get out first, then everyone else got into the raft. Soon after that, they were picked up by ferries and taken to land.

This man stood there for a half hour and told his story time and again in a crowd of reporters, while he stood there soaking wet from the waist down, we might point out. Yet, he was able to tell his story, and he was extremely calm throughout.

He said that he did not suffer any injuries, but he believed that others had. As we've heard by now, the injured and all passengers have been taken to area hospitals to be looked over. So far, as we understand it, mainly everyone we have heard of so far are being treated for hypothermia at this time.

I spoke not long ago with a spokesperson for Airbus based in the Washington, D.C., area, and she tells me that particular plane is normally configured to seat around 180 people or so, although she said, normally, about 150 passengers can fit aboard the plane. She did not know how many passengers were on this particular flight, the US Airways flight.

The man that we spoke with said that he was heading here -- or rather taking off from New York, from Connecticut, where he lives, to go to a golf tournament. Obviously, things turned badly.

And as we know now, it is possible, according to a law enforcement source -- tells CNN that this plane may have hit a flock of geese before it went down into the Hudson River.