Image: Hudson River plane crash
MSNBC TV
updated 1/16/2009 8:54:14 AM ET 2009-01-16T13:54:14

A US Airways pilot reported a "double bird strike" less than a minute after takeoff Thursday and was headed for an emergency landing in New Jersey when he ditched into the Hudson River, an air controllers union spokesman said.

The pilot of the Airbus 320 was climbing to 1,500 feet when he reported the bird strikes about 30 to 45 seconds after a normal takeoff from New York's LaGuardia Airport, National Air Traffic Controllers Association spokesman Doug Church said. Church said the pilot apparently meant that birds had hit both of the plane's jet engines. When he reported the bird strike, the pilot asked to return to the ground immediately.

Church's account came from employees at the New York TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control Center) in Westbury, N.Y., which was handling the aircraft after its takeoff.

According to Church:

The controller then issued instructions to turn the aircraft back to LaGuardia, when the pilot, then over northern New Jersey, looked down, saw an airstrip and asked, "What airport is that?"

The controller replied: "That's Teterboro." That suburban airport near Newark serves primarily commuter and private aviation.

Wanted to land at Teterboro
The pilot said he wanted to land there.

The controller then gave instructions to divert the aircraft to Teterboro's Runway 1 for an emergency landing.

That was the last transmission between the aircraft and the New York TRACON, Church said. At that point, the aircraft could have reached about 5,000 feet, Church estimated.

"There was no 'mayday' or emergency distress signal from the plane's transponder during the entire episode, which lasted about five or six minutes," Church said.

The TRACON takes control of departing flights from airport tower controllers after liftoff and handles them out to a radius of about 40 miles and an altitude of 10,000 to 12,000 feet, when they are turned over to an en route air control center.

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said US Airways Flight 1549 took off at 3:26 p.m. EST. The plane took off on Runway 4, made a left turn and crashed less than three minutes later, Brown said.

NTSB to investigate the crash
"We understand that there were eyewitness reports the plane may have flown into a flock of birds," Brown said. She said the left turn is the "the normal takeoff procedure from that runway. ... They were in a normal configuration."

"Right now we don't have any indication this was anything other than an accident," Brown said.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate the crash.

There were conflicting reports on the number aboard. Brown said there were 148 passengers and either five or six crew members. US Airways said 150 passengers, three flight attendants and two pilots were on board the jetliner. A senior NTSB investigator, Joe Sedor, told reporters here there were a total of 151 people aboard.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: The dangers of bird strikes

  1. Transcript of: The dangers of bird strikes

    ANN CURRY, co-host: Listen, you know, a flock of birds. It's hard to imagine that it could bring down a commercial airliner , but in fact, it's happened before , and in fact, it's a growing problem. NBC 's Tom Costello is at Reagan National Airport with more on this part of the story. Tom , good morning.

    TOM COSTELLO reporting: Ann , good morning. As you probably know, the Reagan Airport here sits right on the Potomac River . You can see it right off of the runway there, and they have a constant problem here with birds. So every 30 -- every 90 seconds to three minutes they fire a cannon off to scare those birds away. But here's

    the issue: The geese population in this country is surging. Meanwhile, planes are getting quieter so the geese can't hear them coming. That makes the risk of an altercation with a flock of geese very real. From Manchester , England , YouTube video of a bird strike on a 757 nearly two years ago. Within seconds, the pilot realizes he's lost an engine.

    Offscreen Voice #1: Mayday, mayday, mayday.

    COSTELLO: It's not unusual. Bird strikes have been a problem since the Wright brothers started flying. In 2007 , there were more than 7600 bird and wildlife strikes on civil aircraft in the US. Since 1988 , more than 219 people have been killed worldwide because of bird strikes with the Canadian geese population up 400 percent since 1990 . This Pratt Whitney video shows the massive damage a large bird can inflict on an engine, turning the fan blades into flying shrapnel.

    Mr. RICHARD DOLBEER (Retired USDA Scientist): And if it collides with a Canada goose , which weighs about 10 pounds, that's the equivalent of taking a 1,000-pound weight and dropping it from a height of 10 feet . Tremendous force generated.

    COSTELLO: In New York , once the pilot realized he'd lost both engines, he put the plane down on the water, and because it was an Airbus A320 , he had an advantage.

    Mr. GREG FEITH: One of the things about the Airbus , the A320 Airbus , is that they actually have a button called the ditching button, where the crew will push that button. When they do it, all of the outflow valves, all of the ram air ports, everything that has an air flow through it in the fuselage seals up. So when the airplane then goes into the water, the fuselage is air-tight.

    Offscreen Voice #2: Inflate your vests, jump into the water.

    COSTELLO: And flight attendants practice for water landings, learning to never open the rear door first, since that can sink a plane . The 1549 crew did exactly that, following procedures and only opening the front doors and inflating the slides. Had they opened the rear door, the plane could have sunk tail first. Yeah, everything went just exactly as it was supposed to go. Listen, back to the bird issue for a moment, Ann. Airports around the country have been dealing with this issue with the surging bird population. Cannons, one option. They use strobes, they use dogs, they use falcons. But again, this is an issue that across the country they have been dealing with, wrestling with, and there's no quick, easy fix. Back to you.

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