Video: Heroes of the Hudson

  1. Transcript of: Heroes of the Hudson

    ANN CURRY, co-host: But at first now, a closer look at the heroes from the Hudson . We've got NBC 's Lester Holt , who's been really covering that part of the story. Hey, Lester , good morning.

    LESTER HOLT reporting: Good morning, Ann. You and I could sit here and talk all day about all the things that could have gone wrong. The visibility could have been poor, they couldn't seen the runway -- couldn't have seen the water, there could've been helicopters flying nearby. There was some luck, but there was also plenty of heroism and it started with the two people who were flying that airplane to safety.

    Mr. JEFF KOLODJAY (Passenger on US Airways Flight 1549): And the guy said the captain came on and says, ` 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 , five Hail Marys and we hit the water.

    HOLT: Out of time , out of altitude and out of power, Captain Chesley Sullenberger and his co-pilot had two choices, risk crashing on land in a long shot attempt to reach a runway or try what few have successfully done before, land a commercial jet in water.

    Mr. BILL ZUHOSKI (Passenger on US Airways Flight 1549): Everybody owes their lives to the pilot. He did an amazing job.

    Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Mayor of New York City): He walked the plane twice after everybody was off and tried to verify that there was nobody else on board and assures us there were not.

    HOLT: Experience was on his side. Sullenberger is an ex-fighter pilot, 29 years with the airlines, a former Pilots Union safety chairman and accident investigator with 19,000 flight hours, who this morning other pilots are lauding.

    Mr. TOM CASEY (Former Airline Captain): It required an incredible amount of airmanship to put that plane down so it didn't break up, and it didn't break up.

    HOLT: But with the plane safely down, more heroes were about to be made. A virtual flotilla of ferry and tour boats raced to the scene as water began to fill the plane 's cabin and passengers began exiting the downed jet.

    Mr. ALAN WARREN (New York Waterway Harbormaster): We don't think, we just react, and everyone kind of knows what they do. From people in the office answering the phones to the people on the ferries, everyone steps up.

    HOLT: Coast Guard , fire and police rescuers soon join the effort. And while most of the passengers made it onto the wing or even right into waiting boats, divers had to rescue others from the freezing water.

    Unidentified Diver: When we saw that the plane started filling up with water faster and faster, and when we didn't see anybody else in there, we decided to get out, just because it wasn't safe to be in.

    HOLT: And now as the NTSB begins to look at what went wrong on that flight, everyone else seems more eager to talk about what went right.

    Mr. BRAD WENTZELL (Passenger on US Airways Flight 1549): This pilot, and if this guy doesn't get the recognition he needs...

    Unidentified Man: Yeah, it's unbelievable.

    Mr. WENTZELL: ...is the reason my daughter...

    Man: Yeah.

    Mr. WENTZELL: ...my two and a half-year-old has a dad and my wife still has a husband.

    HOLT: And among his many credits, Ann , this pilot is also a certified glider pilot . Flying an A320 not exactly like a glider, but some principles of flight remain. That couldn't have hurt him. What do they say about flying? It's hours of sheer boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror.

updated 1/16/2009 11:31:05 AM ET 2009-01-16T16:31:05

As Capt. Brittany Catanzaro eased her commuter ferry, the Thomas Kean, into the Hudson River, she saw an eye-popping sight: a US Airways jet, bobbing on the tide.

"I couldn't believe it," said the 20-year-old, a captain for just five months. "But we train for man-overboard situations. Twice a month. And I knew what we had to do."

The ferries that ply the waters between New York and New Jersey were among the first rescue craft on the scene Thursday when Flight 1549 splashed down after engine failure . The fast actions of their crews, combined with the heroic efforts of emergency responders, produced an amazing result: All 155 people on board were pulled to safety.

From the initial cry of "man overboard!" it took only a few minutes for the first boat to arrive at the jet's side. Captains said they approached cautiously to avoid swamping the jet and sending the frightened passengers standing on its wing into the freezing water.

Some passengers let out cheers when the Thomas Jefferson ferry pulled up, the first of 14 vessels to render aid.

"We had to pull an elderly woman out of a raft in a sling. She was crying. ... People were panicking. They said, 'Hurry up, hurry up,'" Capt. Vincent Lombardi said. "We gave them the jackets off our backs."

Lombardi's crew plucked 56 passengers from the jet's wing and life rafts. Wide-eyed ferry passengers, their evening commute disrupted, helped out, tossing life jackets and ropes to the crash victims below.

Catanzaro's boat picked up 24 people.

The fire department in New York got the first emergency call at 3:31 p.m. and was on the scene in less than five minutes. Across the river, Weehawken, New Jersey, police, firefighters and emergency medical crews boarded ferries awaiting rush hour and headed to the plane, minutes after the pilot guided the jet into the water.

New York City police detectives John McKenna and James Coll, of the department's Emergency Services Unit, commandeered a sightseeing ferry at 42nd Street.

As they arrived at the sinking fuselage, Sgt. Michael McGuinness and Detective Sean Mulcahy tied ropes around themselves that were also tied to their colleagues. They stayed on board as McKenna and Coll entered the plane to rescue four other passengers still inside.

High above, divers Michael Delaney and Robert Rodriguez of the New York Police Department dropped from a helicopter into the water. From the air, Delaney said, "it all looked very orderly. The plane's crew appeared to do a great job."

'Panic'
Both divers spotted a woman in the water, hanging onto the side of a ferry boat and "frightened out of her mind," Rodriguez said. "She's very lethargic."

Video: Pilot's family talks about crash landing "I see panic out of this woman," Rodriguez said. "She's very cold, so she's unable to climb up."

The two pulled another female passenger from the water as other passengers sat calmly on the plane's flotation devices, waiting to board the ferries clustered nearby.

Both divers climbed onto the wing and entered the plane, and confirmed everyone was off.

One victim suffered two broken legs, a paramedic said, but there were no other reports of serious injuries. Fire officials said at least half the people on board were evaluated for hypothermia, bruises and other minor injuries.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson heaped praise on the rescue effort.

"They train for these kinds of emergencies, and you saw it in action," Bloomberg said. "Because of their fast brave work, we think that contributed to the fact that it looks like everybody is safe."

Paterson said it was a miracle.

"I think that in simplicity, this is really a potential tragedy that may have become one of the most spectacular days in the history of New York City's agencies," he said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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