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THE SITUATION ROOM
US Airways Plane Down in Hudson River
Aired January 15, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The man we spoke with said that he was heading here to -- 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 now know, it is possible, according to a law enforcement source who tells CNN, that this plane may have hit a flock of geese before it went down into the Hudson River.
So it is, indeed, an unbelievable scene here. And if everyone is able to escape life-threatening injuries, then we have what could be called, I think, a miracle.
And, of course, we can add, as well, that Airbus is cooperating fully with the National Transportation Safety Board. It is providing all of its records and looking into those records now to see what kind of history they have on that particular plane -- back to you, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Susan.
We're going to come back to you.
Let me just recap at the top of the hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM what's going on, in case viewers are just joining us. We've been following the breaking news for about an hour and 15 minutes or so. Around 3:30 p.m. Eastern -- we found out about it about 15 minutes later or so -- around 3:30 p.m. Eastern a US Airways flight -- Flight 1549 -- with about 150 people on board, had taken off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City, in Queens, New York, headed for Charlotte, North Carolina. It was an Airbus 320.
All of a sudden, only a moment or two or three after takeoff, something happened to the engines. The FAA believes that a flock of geese managed to get into one or both of those engines. There was smoke. There was fire. The pilot immediately decided he had to look for some area to bring that plane down -- landing in the middle of all those huge buildings in Manhattan or Queens, that populated area, certainly not an option.
He flew around Manhattan and saw the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan. And then he told the passengers to prepare for impact and he brought that plane -- relatively smoothly, we're told, belly first -- into the surface of the Hudson River.
And within a few seconds after that, those doors were opened up by the crew members. Emergency personnel from the New York City Fire Department, from U.S. Coast Guard, they had boats and vessels on the scene right away and folks began leaving that plane.
Either they got onto the wings of the aircraft and waited for a boat to show up boats got close enough or a raft got close enough to get on those boats and then be taken into Manhattan.
Apparently, everyone -- everyone got off safe and sound. No deaths reported. Some injuries, to be sure. But we're told no major injuries.
Let's hope it stays like that.
We're standing by now to hear from US Airways itself. The CEO, we're told, of US Airways, is getting ready to speak. Once that news conference begins, we'll go there live and get official information from US Airways.
At some point, no doubt, we'll hear from the FAA, the NTSB -- the National Transportation Safety Board.
But let's speak to a pilot right now, Rory Kay, from the Air Line Pilots Association, who knows a lot about these kinds of disasters.
Rory, thanks very much for joining us.
I wish it were under different circumstances, but I've got to tell you, there's got to be a lot of smiles out there right now that all approximately 150 passengers and crew members survived what could have been a disaster.
RORY KAY, AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION: Yes, good afternoon to you, Wolf.
And thank you for allowing me to join you.
And, certainly, at this stage of the game -- and we're in very, very early minutes after the accident itself, it certainly looks like it is a good news story for all.
BLITZER: It's amazing that a -- some birds could cause a huge plane like this to go down. I know you prepare for this, you train for this. But a lot of our viewers out there in the United States and around the world worry. They probably don't understand what's going on.
Can't you just stop a bird from being sucked into those engines?
KAY: Well, the short answer is now, you cannot. And you -- I mean, avoiding birds has always been an issue in the vicinity of airports and at lower altitudes for aircraft of any size. And with a little research, you can go back in the history books and find there have been several aircraft accidents and substantial bird strike damages caused to aircraft by birds of all sizes.
But the larger the bird, obviously, the bigger the potential for extreme damage, to the point that a power plant -- an aircraft engine is unable to continue delivering power. And this is obviously a multi-engined aircraft. It's got two engines. If it were to lose just one, it should still be perfectly flyable.
But when you get into a scenario where a large flock of birds -- and, like I said, this is still very early days yet after the accident itself, but there is certainly a strong potential for a large flock of geese or large birds to be involved around airports in the vicinity of water. A large flock of birds can certainly cause all the power plants on an aircraft -- whether it's two engine, three engine or four engine -- to fail. And then, of course, your options become extremely limited.
BLITZER: Rory Kay is with the Air Line Pilots Association.
Rory, thanks very much.
I want to go back to Peter Goelz of the N -- former of the NTSB, the managing director.
And, Peter, we're waiting, and as I say, for this news conference from US Airways to give us all the official details of what they know. But it's pretty amazing, when you think about it, that everyone on board survived.
PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: It was -- it was an amazing piece of airmanship and an amazing performance by the cabin crew. And as your previous guest indicated, you know, air strikes have been with aviation since the earliest days. I did a quick check. In -- you know, in 1905, Orville and Wilbur Wright hit one.
So -- but this -- you seldom see both engines get knocked out at once. I mean that is just, you know, extraordinary. And that the group that was able to -- you know, get this plane down and get the people out was a real tribute.
BLITZER: Because the pilot obviously maneuvered that plane to -- to get it to the Hudson River, as opposed to crash landing into Queens or Manhattan or nearby Connecticut. It was really amazing. The pilot was very, very alert and probably deserves a lot of credit.
GOELZ: Absolutely. You know, on takeoff, you know, your aircraft is far less maneuverable. You know, you're (AUDIO GAP) applied maximum power. You're lifting up. A large flock of Canada geese gets in your way. Boy, you're in trouble.
And this -- and this guy performed admirably. This is really extraordinary.
BLITZER: Someone is speaking at that news conference. I'm not sure exactly who it is, but let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...that afterward.
DOUG PARKER, U.S. AIRWAYS CHAIRMAN AND CEO: Thank you all for joining us so quickly.
I can confirm US Airways Flight 1549 was involved in an accident. The Airbus A320 was en route from Charlotte to LaGuardia. It had 150 passengers on board. The flight was operating with a crew of two pilots and three flight attendants.
US Airways is confirming passenger and crew names and will issue those as soon as possible. At this point, no additional details can be confirmed.
Our preliminary report is that everyone is off the plane and accounted for. We've activated our US Airways Care Team of specially trained employee volunteers to assist those affected by this accident. Individuals who believe they may have family members on board Flight 1549 may call US Airways at 1-800-679-8215 in the United States. The number can be reached toll-free from international locations through AT&T's USA Direct. To contact an AT&T operator, please visit www.usa.att.com/traveler for USA Direct access codes. Others are asked please not to call those numbers so the lines can be kept available for those who truly need them.
It's premature to speculate about the cause of this accident. Out of respect for those affected, we would ask that you also resist the temptation to speculate.
The National Transportation Safety Board will conduct a thorough investigation to determine the probable cause with our complete support and the support of many others.
Further, we are working with and will continue to cooperate fully with the NTSB, local, state and national authorities and answers will emerge during the course of that investigation.
Right now, we're working to care for those who have been touched by this accident. Members of our airline family will come together with these families to help however we can. I'm on my way to New York shortly.
In closing, safety is, has been and, further, will be our foremost priority at US Airways. All of us at US Airways are committed to determine the cause of this event and to assisting in every way possible in preventing a similar occurrence.
US Airways will continue to release information as it becomes available. And please monitor usairways.com for the latest information.
BLITZER: All right. So there he is. That's Doug Parker. He's the chairman and CEO of US Airways, giving us the official statement from US Airways. And we did learn officially now how many were on board that aircraft. One hundred and fifty passengers, he says; two crew members, three flight attendants. That's a total of 155 people on board that aircraft. And he says everyone -- everyone is safe and sound. They all managed to the frigid waters of the Hudson River as that plane made that emergency landing in the Hudson River. It was en route from LaGuardia in New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina -- an Airbus 320, US Airways Flight 1549.
Tom Foreman has been looking into all of this for us, as well.
What are you picking up -- Tom?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it really had to be quite a harrowing experience, especially if you look specifically at what happened during this flight.
Let's turn to the big map over here.
Here's where it went down. This is Manhattan right here. LaGuardia Airport over here. Only about seven miles away from the crash site.
But look specifically at the flight pattern. This is the actual pattern that this plane followed. It went this way, cutting up over the Bronx. It turned north for a while but then came back. That's headed toward the west -- and then turned south.
And you see the pilot following right down river to the point where he went down into the water here. This is somewhere around 50th here in New York, if you're looking for a general sense of this. And it started drifting sort of toward the Lincoln Tunnel.
The people who were being pulled out of the water here are being taken to the pier over here, the next part of their journey, where they were being treated by medics and that sort of thing -- some of them being taken off to hospitals not terribly far away.
As you can see off in the body of the city here, as we move off. So an amazing journey that ultimately wound them only about seven miles from where they were, Wolf.
But one thing I do want to point out. When we talk about the idea of this being a bird strike -- one of the things that a lot of birders can talk about is the fact that this really is the heart of what people often refer to as the Atlantic Flyway. If you look at the Great Lakes over here and all of the marshes up here in Canada and in Nova Scotia, tremendous, tremendous numbers of millions of birds every year -- all year -- are funneling back and forth from that area down through here.
And they tend to converge in this part of the Eastern Seaboard. So the potential for bird strikes here has always been very, very high. And if that turns out to be the case here, I don't think it will be something that will surprise pilots -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Pilots are always, always worried about birds, although it's not well-known to the average passengers out there -- the fliers -- that birds potentially could cause such a problem.
Tom, we'll get back to you.
Jerry Wallis saw what was going on, an eyewitness.
What can you tell us, Jerry?
JERRY WALLIS, WITNESSED PLANE GO DOWN: Well, it -- it's a remarkable feeling when you realize you're getting ready to watch an aircraft crash. But as I was looking out my window over the Hudson River, I noticed the airplane was very low. Then I realized this airplane is coming down.
I didn't notice a trail and any sort of smoke. And from the attitude of the airplane approaching the water, it seemed apparent that it was totally under control. The pilot and crew were doing a remarkable job. The wings were level.
And as the aircraft entered the water, I was making a 911 call. But it entered the water. It splashed one time and immediately came to a halt. And after I completed the 9/11 call, I started taking photographs. And almost immediately, the front left door opened. And then I was looking at -- I mean, luckily yes. The front left door opened and then the emergency exits over the left wing opened and the right wings opened. And people immediately started immediately coming out in what appeared to be a very controlled manner.
I was taking pictures with my BlackBerry, as well as looking through my binoculars. And then within a few minutes, a New York Water Taxi came to the scene and started assisting and putting people on board. And then many other water taxis started accumulating around the scene as the water -- as the plane just drifted down the Hudson River.
WALLIS: It was a -- a remarkable sight.
BLITZER: Well, Jerry, we're showing our viewers the photos you sent us from your BlackBerry. And right in the middle of the screen there, you can see that plane. It looks like you got one of the early shots. That's before you saw a lot of ferries and boats and vessels getting close to try to rescue people aboard that plane. And it looks like it's a pretty -- you must have taken that picture like within seconds after that plane landed in the Hudson River.
WALLIS: Exactly. I was -- I picked up my BlackBerry to take a picture of it actually hitting the water. And I just stopped to think, oh my god, I need to be making a 911 call.
So as it entered the water, I was making the 9/11 call and then immediately thereafter started taking the series of pictures.
But I've got several more that I haven't sent along yet that show basically the accumulation of -- of other boats coming to help and then the authorities promptly showing up. So I'll be happy to pass those along so you can share them with the viewers.
But I'm a private pilot myself. And I've got to tell you, the people that were flying that airplane deserve all the recognition and commendations they can possibly get and then the air crew that got the people out of the airplane, obviously do, too.
I travel extensively in my business. I've been on an airplane just like that one before. And I just can really just sit back and be amazed at what I saw this afternoon and relieved because I know how cold it is here in the city. And that all those people got off safely and what appeared to be in a very calm and orderly manner. And then the way the ferry boats immediately arrived to help -- it was just really an amazing sight to witness this afternoon. And, once again, I'm just very thankful that everybody is OK.
BLITZER: And it was amazing the fact that the pilot and the crew, they got those doors open immediately upon impact in the -- into the Hudson River. Because if you wait too long, you're never going to be able to get those doors open, is that right?
WALLIS: Well, that was my concern. I mean, obviously, I'm not -- I'm not skilled with that aircraft type. But that was certainly my concern because where it went into the water was right in the middle of the river. And it's obviously very deep there because that's where the big cruise ships come in and deep water ships come through there.
So my, my -- my -- I was -- I was scared to death that it was going to go down. It was very buoyant. Most of it was out of the water. The tail section was just coming up to being slightly at the water's edge. But the wings were very well clear of the water.
You could see the -- you could see the little spoilers on the ends of the wings. And immediately -- I mean, immediately people started coming out and they were cueing up on the -- on the wings in a very orderly manner. There were people from the wing tips all the way back to the body. I noticed that the rafts by the -- by the primary front door -- the raft was deployed and people were cueing up in that.
And then, once again, the water taxi arrived almost immediately, also. I think the whole thing probably transpired just in a matter of -- a matter of three or four minutes in that sequence of pictures that I've sent along. And I'll send on some more, too, because...
BLITZER: All right...
WALLIS: I think -- I think, once again, those people just deserve all the credit they can possibly get.
BLITZER: And, Jerry, you're -- I take it you're on the Manhattan side, not the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, is that right?
WALLIS: That's correct. I'm on the Manhattan side. So, I mean, the angle of the sun and everything -- I mean it was -- it was like a picture. I mean it was the most -- it was somewhat surreal seeing something like that happen.
But it was -- it was very, very clear and -- and it was just remarkable watching this thing happen. And once again, amazing that the people have survived intact.
BLITZER: Can you still see that Airbus 320 from where you are now?
WALLIS: No. No. As -- basically, the current is going downstream right now. And probably within about 20 minutes, the plane had floated out of sight from where I was at.
If you look at that sequence of pictures that I sent along, you can see how fast the plane was moving down the river.
BLITZER: So even...
WALLIS: The current...
BLITZER: Even before the passengers and crew members were able to get out?
WALLIS: Basically. Oh, absolutely. I mean, the passengers and crew members were standing on the wings probably for a good three or four minutes. And then -- that's when the first ferry boat arrived. And there were some -- there were some things floating in the water. So I'm sure that the ferry boat captain had to be very careful in approaching the aircraft. And so I'm sure there was a lot of coordination going on at that point between the pilot and the ferry boat captain.
So he eased up to the -- he eased up to the aircraft. And then I saw people start moving from -- from the aircraft onto the ferry boat. Then immediately several of the ferry boats arrived. And then, obviously, the helicopters. The authorities started coming. And the response was really quite commendable.
BLITZER: Did you see anybody -- any of those passengers actually in the water?
WALLIS: You know, I think I did. I was looking through my binoculars and I -- you know, this was just -- you know, it was at somewhat of an angle there. But it looked like I saw at least one or two people in the water. But they had life vests on. So I could be mistaken on that. But it looked like that way to me, near the front door, where the -- where the main raft was at.
BLITZER: Well, given how cold and frigid the waters are of the Hudson River right now, as Chad Myers was telling us, you can't survive in that water for very long. The temperatures in the 30s or 40s -- I think in the 30s, he said, which is pretty awful -- pretty awfully cold. Or a 40 degree temperature even, you get hypothermia relatively quickly if you're stuck in that water.
So, fortunately, those -- those rescue personnel got to the scene, amazingly, all that quickly -- the U.S. Coast Guard, New York City firefighters. They got there and they rescued what is now officially, we've been told, 155 people aboard that US Airways Flight 1549 -- 150 passengers.
WALLIS: That's (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: Two crew members, three flight attendants -- all, we're told, safe and sound right now. Some injuries, no doubt, but no fatalities, which is really amazing when you think about what could have happened.
WALLIS: It's remarkable.
BLITZER: I'm going to play a little clip of another witness.
Jerry Wallis -- Jerry Wallis, thank you for those iReport photos. And if you can get us some more, we'd love to share those with our viewers in the United States and around the world. And we'll get back to you.
Jerry Wallis telling an amazing story of what he saw. He saw that plan come in, land on the Hudson River. And it took a few minutes for the -- for the rescue workers and others to get there aboard those boats, but they saved all those people. A hundred and fifty-five people are alive right now because of really sharp work on the part of the crew, the flight attendants, passengers and those rescue personnel.
All right, we've got a clip. I want to play you this little clip of someone else who saw what was going on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF KOLODJAY, PASSENGER: The engine blew about three minutes into the flight. Smoke came out everywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, what can I say?
KOLODJAY: A couple of minutes later, the captain came on and he said we're going to dump this plane. Brace for impact -- and probably brace pretty hard.
And that's what we did. And kudos to him, man. He did a great job.
KOLODJAY: So we dumped it and the plane started filling with water really quick.
KOLODJAY: And everyone was just super cool. And...
QUESTION: How did you get out?
KOLODJAY: By the luck of god, man. I don't know.
QUESTION: What were the...
QUESTION: ...the front or the back or the middle?
KOLODJAY: We exited out the front. For some reason, I guess the back exit was closed.
KOLODJAY: And that's where the water started filling a lot quicker than the others.
KOLODJAY: So we made it up front.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right away.
KOLODJAY: And, man, that was cool, huh?
QUESTION: What kind of...
QUESTION: And what happened to all the people on board?
QUESTION: What happened to the other people on board?
KOLODJAY: There were some -- a couple ladies got some bad leg injuries and everything. But all in all, I give my hats off to the pilot. I mean...
QUESTION: Is everybody safe, though?
KOLODJAY: I think all
KOLODJAY: All in all, I asked around and I think (INAUDIBLE). And I think everyone made it on so.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got it.
QUESTION: What did the pilot say?
Why did he have to (INAUDIBLE) emergency landing?
KOLODJAY: Just -- I guess an engine blew and no engine. So it was -- it was bad, man.
QUESTION: How did you get here?
QUESTION: How strong was it when you hit the water -- I mean what you felt?
KOLODJAY: It was pretty bad.
QUESTION: How did you get here?
QUESTION: But how did you get here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our boat sank over there and...
QUESTION: What is it, a raft?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was some lift rafts that we all hopped on and then these ferry guys reacted real quick and...
QUESTION: Have you been dry the whole time?
QUESTION: So you got out into a life...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't get what?
KOLODJAY: My legs are soaked. If you look at my pants, man, they're frozen.
QUESTION: But how were you rescued, then?
Did you get into a life raft first?
Is that what happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many people -- 22 were on board, you said?
KOLODJAY: There were 24 rows, 25 rows full of -- the plane was a hundred percent full so.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So everybody is OK?
KOLODJAY: Everyone got out, I think.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people are hurt, though.
QUESTION: Did you get into a life raft first?
QUESTION: What was it like in...
KOLODJAY: I'm not going to try and sound like a big guy. But, you know, it was my priority to make sure that the women and children got on first. So after that, we all did. So, everyone was cool. All the...
QUESTION: ...into the raft and then you got onto a ferry?
KOLODJAY: Yes. After that, we let all the women on the ferry first. And then...
QUESTION: Were you on the wing, though?
QUESTION: Were you one of the passengers that were on the wing or?
KOLODJAY: I was -- yes. I was two seats -- like two or three seats down the wing.
KOLODJAY: I don't even really know, man. The flight was so short.
QUESTION: What did the captain say to you?
QUESTION: ...before the wing?
KOLODJAY: He goes -- he goes -- it was pretty scary, man. Like, I thought he was going to say circle back to LaGuardia. Because I've flown out of LaGuardia a lot. And I knew you can come around this way and circle in on that runway over there. And he goes just brace for impact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. There is one of the passengers who survived. A hundred and fifty-five people were aboard that plane -- 150 passengers, five crew members and flight attendants -- two members of the crew, three flight attendants. Everyone got out safely. No fatalities.
There were some were injuries and we're getting some specific information right now on injuries.
A spokeswoman for Roosevelt Hospital in the western part of Manhattan -- Midtown Manhattan -- West Midtown -- says the hospital has received a husband and wife, both with hypothermia, and a flight attendant with a leg fracture who is going in for surgery. That's at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan.
Now, over at Jersey City Medical Center -- that's on the other side of the Hudson River -- that's the river going between Manhattan and New Jersey -- they are treating, we're told, 25 of these plane crash patients at a triage center. And the nature of their injuries, though, we're not being told what they are. But 25 people -- passengers or crew members from aboard that US Airways flight are being treated at the Jersey City Medical Center.
There are others being treated at the Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, New Jersey. No numbers or the nature of injuries from that hospital yet.
So we're watching this very, very closely. And it's going to be trite to say it, but God knows it's the truth, it could have been so much worse. A hundred and fifty people are alive right now, even though some of them have some injuries. A hundred and fifty people are alive because of the alert work of this pilot and co-pilot and the crew and the flight attendants, who managed to get everyone aboard that plane safe -- onto boats, into hospitals or elsewhere.
Thank God for that.
Susan Candiotti is on the scene for us -- Susan, tell us what you're learning.
CANDIOTTI: Well, it's remarkably cold out here, as you can well imagine. And amazing to hear that there are no serious injuries, aside from the fracture that we heard about and people being treated for hypothermia. At least that's what we're hearing now, as you pointed out, Wolf.
The area where I am is just south of the Intrepid. I'm sure many of you have heard about that aircraft carrier, now turned into a museum. But around here, it appears to be mainly a staging area for a lot of police officers, ambulances, fire engines -- people who may be on standby to be brought farther south of here, where some of the passengers apparently are being rescued from the Coast Guard -- by the Coast Guard, from other private ferries and other personnel from the city that are helping to bring these people to shore for treatment at various hospitals.
There are a lot of onlookers here, as you can well imagine, as well, to see what they can see. But frankly, from here and in the river, the plane had floated farther south from here, several blocks -- about 20 blocks south. And then apparently it has been tied to a tug boat and is being preserved.
Obviously, they're going to be going over that plane once it is brought to shore. It will be thoroughly examined by the National Transportation Safety Board as part of their investigation to find out precisely what happened.
So here we are seeing a lot of flashing lights, a lot of personnel, a lot of people who coming down to see what they can see. We have not yet run into any family members as yet, but occasionally you'll run into a witness or two who saw the plane as it was going down.
But the most powerful interview that we conducted here was by that -- was involving a passenger, who described what you did about the passenger -- excuse me, that the flight crew was remarkably calm after they warned people to brace for impact.
When that plane hit the water, the crew was able to open one of the doors to the aircraft and people were able to get out. They were escorted into life rafts. They went out into the water and then eventually were picked up by waiting ferries, who brought them to shore for treatment both here in New York and over on the New Jersey side -- both -- on either side of the Hudson River.
This man talked about how calm everyone was. He himself saw that there appeared to be some injuries. He was soaking wet from the waist down. And as you can see our breath, it is absolutely frigid out here. So you can imagine how cold he must have been as he stood there and talked about what he had been through in a remarkably calm fashion.
So that is the scene from here at this time, Wolf, as we wait to hear more from any authorities who can fill us in on some of the rescue efforts. But everything seems to be pretty well organized at this particular location -- back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're standing by. And within the next few moments, Susan, a news conference from the mayor of New York, the governor of New York, other authorities. They're going to be telling us what they know, presumably, about what's going on right now.
And I have to say, as bad as it is that a plane has to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River, the good news is that everyone survived -- albeit some people were injured. They're being treated at local hospitals. But it certainly could have been a whole lot worse.
We're told repeatedly -- I don't know if you picked up anything, Susan, where you are right now, that the pilot had reported just before this plane made that emergency landing in the Hudson River that he reported what's called a double bird strike -- meaning, I assume meaning that birds -- that birds got into both engines of that Airbus 320.
Hold on a second, Susan, because Deborah Feyerick is working this story, as well.
CANDIOTTI: That's OK.
BLITZER: I think she's got some additional information she wants to share with us as we await this news conference of the mayor of New York and others.
What are you learning -- Deb?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, according to two law enforcement sources, according to a pilot recording, he did try to attempt to return to LaGuardia Airport unsuccessfully. This was a level one mobilization, because nobody knew exactly what was going on -- whether this was some catastrophic mechanical failure or whether this was some terrorism.
A source confirms there is no nexus to terrorism, that this does appear that the plane hit two geese in the area. The quick response, in part, was because so many witnesses were watching this plane go down. So 911 calls started flooding into the fire department and the police department. People were on the highway watching that plane land. That's why you have so many descriptions.
People who were in buildings also seeing that that plane was in distress. The first calls came into the fire department about 3:31 this afternoon. Within five minutes, more than 25 fire engines were on the scene. They were all responding to this. That doesn't even include the EMS, the NYPD, the Coast Guard, others.
But again, because there was so much information as to what was going on, these small ferries that you also see were also able to mobilize quickly, coming both from the New York side -- which is where the Intrepid Museum is and that's where the plane went down -- and across the river on the New Jersey side. You had both police launches, but you also had commercial launches, as well.
So really, so many people watching this as it played out in real time, people were able to respond. And that probably will be why so many people were saved and why all those folks were able to get off the plane. The FAA confirming that 150 people did get off that plane.
So, again, a level one mobilization. A quick response because of those 9/11 calls. And, again, the pilot in control of that plane at all times -- able to make that water landing and get those people off the plane safely -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And I just wanted to let our viewers know that there will be this briefing in the next few minutes -- maybe the next minute or so -- the New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly; the fire commissioner; others, including Governor David Paterson of New York, will be there, as well.
I assume Mayor Bloomberg will be there, as well. That should be happening within the next few moments. We'll get some official word on what is going on. A really almost miraculous development -- these crews and flight attendants -- they're trained for these kinds of emergencies. And it really worked in this particular case. And I think we can all be grateful for that.
We're also told, Deb, that there was an apparent effort by the pilot to make an emergency leading on the New Jersey, at Teterboro, which is a smaller -- a smaller landing strip there, mostly for smaller, private planes. But obviously, he couldn't do that. And had a make a quick decision and go into the icy cold waters of the -- not necessarily icy, but very cold with the reason of the Hudson River.
FEYERICK: Absolutely. Not only that, you have to think that Newark Airport is right nearby. Technically, if the plane had enough juice to get to Teeterborough, it could have landed in Newark Airport but what it didn't have enough power to do was turn around and head back to La Guardia. According to law enforcement, the pilot was attempting to return, realized he couldn't make it. It's not clear whether the engines were knocked out at the same time. All of that under review. Probably one of the big reasons they want to save the plane and are trying to keep it from going down all the way just so they can determine exactly whether it was one, two engines. The pilot will have a lot of discuss on that. But people are just stunned. They are so amazed, saying the pilot, co-pilot, they are heroes. All doing exactly what they should have done and that's why apparently, everyone got off OK except for a couple of injuries.
BLITZER: Let me recap what we know. Almost exactly two hours ago, around 3:30 p.m. eastern, a U.S. Airways flight took off for Charlotte, North Carolina. On board, 150 passengers, two crew members, the pilot and co-pilot and three flight attendants, 155 on board that plane, but within a few moments, two or three, apparently, some geese were sucked in or went into the two engines of that air bus 320. There were smoke, flames. The pilot began to make distress calls. Wanted to go back to La Guardia, but couldn't, was searching for an airport in New Jersey. Someone mentioned Teeterborough which is right in New Jersey, small airport there. He couldn't get there and made the decision to land smack dab, right in the middle of the frigid waters of the Hudson River. The doors opened quickly. People got out. Emergency personnel got to the scene and everyone got out alive.
Abbi Tatton has got some I-reports that are coming in as we await the start of this news conference in New York. Abbi what are you seeing?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, you've got to take a look at this picture that we just got into CNN's I-report. Think about where this plane went down surrounded by people in office buildings, in their apartments. These are the kinds of imagines we're getting in. From Julie, she was in her office on the 46th floor in Manhattan. This shows people standing on the wings, waiting to get into rescue boats. This was taken through the telescope.
Julie just e-mailed these pictures. She was saying they see planes all the time over the Hudson River, but something was different about this one. It was flying very low and saw it going lower and lower. Very quickly, she saw it drifting over the water. You can see this on I-report.com. The web is just flooding with these pictures.
Another from Joe. This must have been just moments after. He said there were rescue boats, the ferries, who were on the scene immediately. Joe describes what he saw. He says it looked more like a landing. The back of the plane hit first, then he said he saw a wave after the plane hit and as I said before, immediately, they were ferries on the scene. Looking around photo sharing websites like flickr.com, people recording this, some very early on. Many more ferries reaching the scene.
BLITZER: Can we go back to the first picture, the people on the wings? There it is. It looks like they're standing on water. They're not. They're on the wings. They escaped from emergency exits in the middle of the plane that air bus 320 and then we see others in the front, the doors opening on both sides, getting out onto some grass as they're waiting for boats to show up. You were going to try to count how many people we see over there so far. Abbi, it looks like a couple of dozen.
TATTON: It looks like a long line of people. As you're talking through that, let me just demonstrate what we're talking about. Right here, you see what looks like a raft pulling up to the edge of the plane. Again, this is taken from a telescope from the 46th floor of a building in Manhattan. It looks like there's one boat pulling up to the plane there with about a dozen people getting on it. Now take a look at the other photo, it looks like there's another raft here, and all along here, a row of people, looks like they're walking on water. A couple of dozen people waiting patiently. Think about what must be going through their mind. They're literally standing there in the middle of the Hudson River waiting to be rescued.
As I was showing you earlier, very quickly on the scene you can see from the photo sharing websites, from our other I-reporters, quickly, many more of these ferry boats coming around to join them. These pictures are coming in on the web all the time. Send them in to i-report.com. You can send those through your cell phone if you have any more and we'll be showing those as they come in.
BLITZER: It's amazing how quickly those ferries got there, but they got back and forth from the New York City side to the New Jersey side all the time and there's emergency radio calls saying, help, get to that U.S. Airways plane. You know what? They all did and they saved a lot of people's lives on both sides. They were using the Manhattan side or the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Truly an amazing story when you think about what could have happened.
TATTON: It is. We're listening to these first hand reports of people watching in and trying to work out what they should do first, call 911, record it on their cell phones, and send it in. There are many, many of these pictures out there and from these accounts, you can hear people were trying to figure out --
BLITZER: One thing I would say, I think those are the emergencies chutes that open up and people can just get out there and start standing as opposed to formal rafts. Is that what it looks like to you?
TATTON: It's hard to make out. I've already blown this up very big. The front section of the plane here and here, that's what it looks like. Coming out from the very front, almost from the cockpit right now, or the first door behind that there, that's where you see a couple of dozen people lining the wing, waiting patiently. This is before the first ferry boats arrived. We don't know how long this was going on for but we do know from other eyewitnesses on the scene that it was almost instantaneous that you had ferry boats arriving at the scene to try and help people off, throwing life jackets there to the people when they arrived. That could be what it is at the front. The inflatable rafts or chutes coming out from either side of the plane and the people just waiting to be picked up.
BLITZER: And waiting in really cold temperatures. Chad Myers was telling us, about 20 degrees in New York City right now and the water temperature is frigid right now. Most of those folks did not have a chance to get off the plane with any of their coats. They just took a life vest or a cushion from their seat. You can just imagine how cold.
TATTON: And that's when you can imagine that the speed was so important here that we're hearing from the witnesses, that have been sending their accounts to I-report that because the rescue boats, not rescue boats, ferry boats that were at this point, rescuing people, they come in so quickly. Freezing cold standing in the middle of the river, it was very quick.
BLITZER: Within a few minutes, they were all rescued. They got out. They're alive and thank god for that. Stand by for a moment, that picture is really amazing.
We've been getting a lot of these I-reports, pictures and videos coming in because remember this plane made the landing right between Manhattan, the west side of Manhattan and New Jersey. On the other side, lots of big, tall buildings and lots of folks were watching as this emergency landing took place. What an amazing story it is.
The mayor of New York, the governor of New York, the police commissioner, the fire commissioner, they're getting ready to hold a news conference in New York and we're going to hear from specifics what's going on. We did hear from the chairman and CEO of U.S. Airways, tell us 155 were on board. All of them got out safe. Some injured. We don't know the extent, but they are alive. Earlier, I spoke with one of the passengers who got out and told me this ...
Alberto, are you there, can you hear me?
ALBERTO PANERO, PASSENGER OF DOWNED FLIGHT: Yes, I can hear you.
BLITZER: Walk us through what happened. You were taking off from La Guardia, 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 air bus 320. Then what happens?
PANERO: All of a sudden, you heard a loud bang. The plane shook a bit and immediately, the -- you could smell like smoke or 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 we were turning back and you know, nothing was happening. The smoke, 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. That's when we knew we were going down, it seemed like into the water. We just hit and somehow the plane, you know, stayed afloat and we were able to get on the raft. And it's just incredible right now, that everybody's still alive.
BLITZER: Alberto, which exits from the aircraft did you manage to escape from?
PANERO: Initially, I went to the one 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 of one of those boats that I was able to you know, sit in there and you know start helping people out, get people out. A lady with a gash, help her out and stuff like that. BLITZER: So in other words, those boats managed to get right up to the door and you could just literally jump off the plane into a boat. You never had to go into the water?
PANERO: No, some people were on the wings and had to wait there, but most of the people were able to get on the raft.
BLITZER: Based on what you saw, were you one of the first or last off?
PANERO: I was in the middle.
BLITZER: And you think everyone managed to escape and were taken to a building in 42nd street?
PANERO: Yes. They have everybody's here, just trying to get everything situated. Everybody pretty much is OK. It's, I don't even know how to put it in words.
BLITZER: Thank God for that. A regular list of passengers, a lot of children. Is that true? A lot of the children? Elderly?
PANERO: There was both, but I'm pretty sure they were able to get on the raft.
BLITZER: As we're looking at this picture of the a 320, it seems to be sinking as we speak right now. It's unclear if it's sinking all that rapidly, but what you're saying, Alberto, is that you believe everyone managed to exit the plane safely, to get on boats and that plane right now, we can only hope and pray is totally empty, is that right?
PANERO: Yes. I can't say 100%, but I'm pretty sure everybody managed to get off into one of the vessels.
BLITZER: When you escaped from the plane, did the flight attendants and pilots tell you to put on those life, those vests? You always hear about it before you take off about the emergency procedures. You hope you never have to use them.
PANERO: I actually grabbed one of the seats. That was the first thing that came to mind just grabbing one of the seats and using that. Some people grabbed the yellow, the inflatable ones. Other people grabbed the seats. It seemed like immediately, there were boats coming towards us and helped us to get to safety.
BLITZER: Was it pretty orderly or was there pretty much of a panic as everyone tried to escape?
PANERO: At first, there was a little bit of panic. There was a couple of people who just kind of took charge and just started yelling to calm down, to get everybody out. Once I think people realized that we were going to be OK, everybody kind of calmed down, just trying to get outside of the boat to safety. Just after the impact alone, it seemed like you know, it felt just like a car crash, you know, the impact then all of a sudden, it was just get out and get out now. BLITZER: What I hear you saying is that there were basically two exits, in front and over the wing? Is that right?
PANERO: And I believe there was a third one in the back. I didn't see that, I went to the one in the front.
BLITZER: After the pilot said and announced to everyone on board, get ready for impact, what happened then? Were they able to speak to you, the pilot and flight attendants?
PANERO: No. That was the 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. For the most part, it got really quiet. I pretty much just said to myself, OK, I guess this is it, let's do it. I didn't really know what to think at the moment. Once it hit, I realized that I was OK and knew I had to get out before it started sinking.
BLITZER: Did you remember exactly what the pilot said before it crashed into the Hudson River?
PANERO: Yes, all that was said was prepare for impact.
BLITZER: That was it, prepare for impact. 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 those flight attendants or were they passengers?
PANERO: I don't know who it was at that point. It was dark and smoky inside.
BLITZER: How long did it take between the time of impact Alberto and the time you managed to walk outside onto one of those boats and survive?
PANERO: I would say less than a minute. I would say 30 seconds. I mean -- as soon as impact was made and everyone realized we were kind of OK the first thing was get to the exits. Over and over -- get a flight I guess.
BLITZER: It pays obviously, to be closer to the exits on these kinds of flights. But thank god, it sounds as if everyone on board that plane managed to get off safely. Very impressive work on part of the crew and passengers in making sure everyone got out. You've had a few moments to reflect on what's just happened to you and your fellow passengers and crew of this U.S. airways plane that went down in the Hudson River. Give us a thought.
PANERO: Wow and thank the Lord and thank the pilot. I mean -- I can't believe that somehow he managed to land that plane safely. That's all I can say. And I hope that everybody that's got family on the plane can think that everybody here is pretty much OK and this was a near death experience that thankfully has not turned that way.
BLITZER: Thank God for that. Alberto Panero, one of the passengers who was aboard that U.S. Airways Flight 1549 from La Guardia to Charlotte, North Carolina. Within 40 seconds, 50 seconds of takeoff, all of the sudden birds got sucked into both engines, at least according to preliminary reports. Those engines were seen smoking, got into fire. Then all of a sudden, the pilot had to make some quick decisions. Within four or five minutes that plane had made that landing into the Hudson River. Within a few seconds after that, the doors were opened. Folks got out on the wings, into those rafts and those emergency shoots that opened. Within a few minutes after that, there were boats that got saved everyone onboard, 150 people, 150 passengers, five crew members and flight attendants.
We're told, by the way, that in his farewell address to the nation later tonight from the White House, 8:00 p.m., a little bit more than two hours from now, President Bush will mention this near- disaster. It could have been a whole lot worse in his remarks to the nation from the east room of the white house. We'll have live coverage of that as well. We're also awaiting a news conference, a statement from New York City authorities. They're going to give us more information exactly what happened. It's truly an amazing story.
In the meantime, let's go back to Abbi Tatton. You're getting I- reports and also information on the pilots who did an amazing job saving 150 people, 155 people, including himself.
TATTON: Wolf, we just had praise for the pilot there. The U.S. Airways source tells CNN the pilot's name is Captain Chessley B. Sully Sullenberger. According to the site linked where the captain keeps an online profile, he's a 29-year veteran of U.S. airways, has been a captain since 1980. Before that, he was a former U.S. air force fighter pilot from 1973 to 1980. We've got a picture of him online. He's also listed as the chairman and CEO of a company called Safety Reliability Methods. It's a company that is listed as providing technical expertise in safety and reliability in high-risk industries. As I said, a captain for 29 years with U.S. Airways. A U.S. Airways source telling CNN that is the captain that saved those people's lives today.
BLITZER: Sully Sullenberger. He deserves a whole lot of credit, an amazing, amazing job. We thank him on behalf of everyone out there, especially the family and friends of those 154 other people who were onboard that plane who are all alive right now.
We're just seeing some pictures coming in. I see Mayor Bloomberg about to walk in with Governor David Paterson, and speak to reporters, speak to all of us. There you see Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg. As soon as they get to the microphone, which we heard will be momentarily, we'll hear what they have to say. I'm sure they're totally relieved this disaster ended with everyone alive. Although there are certainly some injuries as we've heard from authorities at some of the hospitals in Manhattan and New Jersey. This plane made that emergency landing in the Hudson River in between Manhattan, the west side of Manhattan and New Jersey.
And fortunately, within a matter of a few moments, the boats got there and saved all those people onboard. Very smart work on the part of the flight attendants and some of those passengers who no doubt were helpful in making sure people didn't panic. And they methodically managed to get to those doors, those emergency exits, as well as the front and rear doors of that airbus 320 as it made that landing in the Hudson River.
We see the mayor of New York is about to make a statement. He's going up to the microphone, so we'll listen in.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: All right. Easy, easy, easy. OK. Time-out until we get everybody settled.
Let me tell you what we know happened, and what we don't know yet. Obviously a twin-engine plane went down in the Hudson River, and we have reason to believe that there were 155 people, including crew, roughly, and that we think all got out safely.
Now, the reason I'm saying we believe, and we think, is that some were taken to New Jersey and some were taken to this side of the Hudson River. Most were picked up by New York waterways boats, and we have Allen Warner, the harbor master here, and some were picked up by circle line boats, and we think some may have been picked up by Coast Guard, PD and FBNY boats. We're trying to identify every single person that was on that boat and make sure that they are accounted for. But there is no reason to believe at the moment that this wasn't something that we should thank god for, that everybody got out safely, and we do not believe that there are any serious injuries.
A few people were taken to the hospital. They're in stable condition. A few people wanted to go to the hospital. They may or may not by this time have arrived. But it would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river, and then making sure that everybody got out.
I had a long conversation with the pilot. He walked the plane twice after everybody else was off and tried to verify that there was nobody else onboard. And assures us there were not. I also talked to a passenger who said he was the last one up the aisle, and that he made sure there was nobody behind him. But the information is still subject to slight variations, because there were some passengers onboard that, where the manifest doesn't show them or does show them and we're trying to get an accurate list from U.S. Airways. The first and most important thing is, this pilot did a wonderful job, and it would appear that all roughly 155, including crew and one infant, got out safely.
Now, the second thing that you should know is that the actual cause of the accident will be investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. I talked to Mary Peters, the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the FAA is under them, the NTSB is a separate independent agency, but she informed me that they were leaving Washington National Airport with their normal team that goes to any wrecks, and they will arrive here roughly 7:00, 7:30, and they will be the ones that will do an investigation, and they will make no conclusions in advance.
So all of the speculation on what really happened here is just speculation, and the NTSB is going to do their normal, careful, thoughtful and competent review of what actually happened. But the most important thing, let me come back to, and that is, that all the passengers got out safely, we think.
I did talk to the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, where the plane was going, Pat McCorey. He said we met a couple times. And I offered that the governor and I will buy him a drink the next time he comes to New York. But he called to say thank you very much for treating all the people who were going to Charlotte, or lived in Charlotte, every report the governor got they were just over the top with the kind of hospitality that we showed. I pointed out this is not normally the way people arrive in New York City. But nevertheless, as long as they all got out safely, I think everything else is secondary.
There are some phone numbers, if anybody watching is worried about a passenger. U.S. Air has a number 1-800-679-8215. That's 679- 8215. And you can also call 311 if you live outside of New York City. Remember, the number for 311 is 212-New-York. We will try to make sure that you get the information that you are looking for.
In terms of the response, the FDNY and NYPD and Port Authority Police all worked together. This is one of those events which under our agreement there's joint responsibility, both the police department and the fire department. And I think what you saw was once again them working together. They plan for these kinds of emergencies. They train for these kinds of emergencies. And you saw it in action, because of their fast, brave work, we think that contributed to the fact that it looks like everybody is safe.
The police commissioner had a couple of divers in the water. One or two of them went into the plane. They did get some people who actually went into the water. An awful lot of people stepped right onto ferries that pulled up next to the plane or right up to the wings where they were able to get out onto the wings. But this unified command that we have and the office emergency management assistance, everything did seem to work as well as you would hope that it would work. We got some assistance from the state. They were asked to send in some air resources, and Michael Balboni who is here said they did.
And now I thought it would be nice to hear from the governor. The governor's staff could not have been more cooperative. Anything that we asked for, we got right away.
GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK: On information and belief, there is a heroic pilot who saved himself and approximately 154 other passengers this afternoon. We've had a miracle on 34th Street; I believe we've now had a miracle on the Hudson.