updated 1/16/2009 3:56:06 PM ET 2009-01-16T20:56:06

Guests: Jeff Rossen, Mike Taibbi, Bill Waldock, Gabe Wilson, Tom Casey, Rehema Ellis, Robert Hager, Lester Holt, Roger Simon, Bob Shrum, Susan Page, Pat Buchanan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, and this is HARDBALL.  And we will continue our coverage of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which, tonight, is floating in the Hudson River. 

Just hours ago, the Airbus 320 jetliner made an emergency landing in the river, after the pilot reported engine trouble and all 155 people on board were brought to safety. 

We will have lots more on this.  We will be hearing from lots of people, including experts and survivors, throughout the hour. 

Plus, in one hour, President Bush says farewell on national television and will use the occasion to take credit for a wide range of achievements, preventing another terrorist attack after 9/11, promoting democracy in the world, fighting AIDS, leading the world to freedom, setting higher standards in public schools, providing prescription drugs for seniors, cutting taxes, doubling benefits for veterans, producing cleaner air and water for this country, and two new conservative Supreme Court justices. 

We will get to his address a little later on. 

But we begin with this amazing story out of New York, where all 150 people aboard as passengers made it out alive. 

NBC‘s Lester Holt is with us. 

Lester, I have got a new hero.  His name is Sullenberger, Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger.  How did this pilot save the plane? 

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  (AUDIO GAP) former F-4 pilot.

He‘s the kind of guy you want in the front of the airplane, hopefully with a little gray around his temples, lots of experience.  And it certainly came to bear today as that plane took off. 

You have to put yourself in—in the position of this captain and his first officer.  The plane‘s taking off, 30 to 45 seconds into it, this apparent bird strike.  It‘s been described to me as something you wouldn‘t forget.  You will feel the airplane.  There will be incredible noises, what‘s called a compressor stall, loud bang, bang, bang coming from the engines. 

The passengers will likely see—likely see flames shooting out of those engines, like a fighter jet, and then, of course, the power loss.  Now there are decisions to be made.  You‘re flying over a heavily populated area, over the—over the Bronx, over Upper Manhattan, over the George Washington Bridge. 

He—he looks over and sees Teterboro Airport in the distance in New Jersey, talks to the tower about that as an option.  But if he crossed the George Washington Bridge at 900 feet, he doesn‘t have a lot of altitude to play with.  The plane is going to come down.  The question is, can he control the speed and trade off some distance? 

He could do that, but only apparently by putting it in the Hudson River.  Those who saw this plane come down said it looked like a textbook runway landing, except the fact that the landing gears weren‘t down.  It made a gentle descent onto the water.  The plane apparently went straight ahead and then yawed to one side or the other, as the—as the wing dug in. 

We saw, at 9/11, the ferryboat operators in New York come to the rescue of people stranded in Lower Manhattan.  Again today, they sprung into action.  They immediately surrounded this airplane, which remained afloat, helped people who had already gathered on the wings to safety. 

Some ended up in the water, but not many. 

But, Chris, the headline here, 155 people on board—that‘s passengers, crew, even one infant—all apparently made it out alive, no serious injuries. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Lester, a long time ago, I went over to the National Transportation Safety Board here in Washington to study plane dangers, the—the number of planes that actually do crash, and found that there was only a rare case or two of where planes have been able to successfully ditch. 

This is, isn‘t this, a very rare thing.  Although we train for it on planes, we‘re warned to get ready for it, to actually be able to bring a jetliner down into the water and have it land so softly and carefully that it can stay afloat without breaking up. 

HOLT:  Well, thankfully, it doesn‘t happen very often, because planes are so reliable. 

The possibility of losing two engines, the odds are against you losing two engines.  A bird strike is one of the ways it can happen.  But you‘re right.  There have been cases of planes trying and failing.  There are some that—I certainly recall some crashing after takeoff into the water. 

There was one out in San Francisco back in the ‘60s, I think, a DC-8, that successfully ditched.  But it‘s very difficult.  I talked to one pilot, who said, listen, we have the checklist for that.  We have a procedure for that, but it‘s normally the idea that, hey, I‘m flying over the Atlantic Ocean.  We have a fuel leak.  We have a problem. 

OK.  Now we have got 15, 20 minutes to figure this out, as we descend toward the ocean.  We brief the passengers.  We go through the checklist.  We set the flaps, et cetera, et cetera. 

Here‘s a case where you had seconds, maybe a few minutes, to decide what to do, not—one of the things they would typically do is look at which way the winds are blowing, which way are the waves are blowing, and then bring the airplane in that direction.  That option wasn‘t available here.  This plane was coming down in a hurry, so he had to take the winds as they were. 

He had to risk any low-flying aircraft, a lot of helicopter traffic up and down the Hudson River.  He had to risk any boats, other vessels crisscrossing across that river.  None of that happened.  He missed everything.  The plane got down.  I mean, it is—it will be called a miracle, but we have also got to tip our hats. 

You know, we—a lot of us are nervous flyers.  But, at the end of the day, the people who fly these planes are incredibly well-trained.  I have been in simulators many a time.  In fact, I was in a flight simulator just a week ago. 

They go through all kinds of odd, unimaginable scenarios, practicing for the what-ifs.  They may not have practiced this exact one, but they know the idea that things can go south in a hurry, and they have to react as a crew. 

MATTHEWS:  Give me again, if you can, and perhaps expand on it, what you sense was the passengers‘ experience when the bird attack—when it happened, and it was clear that the plane was in trouble? 

HOLT:  Well, I mean, if you‘re an experienced flyer, you know the usual noises of the flaps being retracted and the gears coming up. 

From what I understand, the sound of birds being sucked into an engine, large birds, would be unmistakable.  It would be a noisy bang.  The plane might shudder.  As I said, if there is what‘s called a compressor stall on the engine, this is a phenomenon where you will hear loud bangs and literally flames will shoot out the back of the engines.  It‘s like watching a fighter jet take off. 

So, if you‘re anywhere near the window seat, you know this plane has just hit—has just something very bad.  They would probably feel the power come back.  Probably, the nose would—the pilot would immediately push the nose down a little bit to—to pick up a little air speed out of his climb. 

I think he was at 3,200 feet when this happened.  You would also—you probably—if you‘re like me, you would probably look to the flight attendants to get some cue.  Is this—hey, by the way, is this normal?  You would see their concern. 

We understand the pilot was able to get on the—on the intercom at one point and tell people to brace for impact.  How much preparation they had, though, whether they were told to don life preservers, is unclear, because, remember, up until the last moment, the pilot was apparently considering flying over to Teterboro Airport, a large general aviation, you know, business jet airport, and making a landing there.

So, the—the water landing part may have come together in just a matter of seconds. 

MATTHEWS:  So, we‘re looking right now, Lester, as you can see, at a picture of Chelsey Sullenberger, who is in fact nicknamed “Sully.”

Let me ask you about this.  Once the plane gets hit by this bird attack, the—the engines, the jet engines are knocked out.  It then has only, what, its gliding potential that is left, in terms of its maneuverability?  That‘s all that is left to the pilot?

HOLT:  Maybe. 

He might—we don‘t know if he lost complete thrust or just partial thrust.  But, yes, it‘s possible he‘s down to gliding.  Now—now, planes, there is a glide ratio, and they actually glide very well. 

There is a—There is a famous case of a larger Airbus that lost—had a fuel leak, and glided for over an hour to a landing spot off of—of of Spain. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  I don‘t remember the exact details.

But the planes can—all planes have a published glide ratio.  The pilot knows, you know, for every X amount of feet you go forward, you lose so many feet down.  So, they can glide.

But, remember, he wasn‘t very high.  I mean, if this had happened at 15,000, 20,000, 25,000 feet, OK, now you have got some time to work with, and you are going to cover some distance, and you can talk about alternate airports. 

If you‘re—if you‘re coming through 3,000 feet, you‘re covering the George Washington Bridge at 900 feet, good grief.  I mean, there‘s no—you know, your—your options are limited.  There‘s no place on land to come down.  This is—this is the largest metropolitan area in the country.  So the water is really your only option. 

MATTHEWS:  So, what the passengers were hearing and watching was, they saw these flames coming out of the engines.  They heard the incredibly loud noise.  They knew something terrible had happened.

And we can imagine that then they were told by the pilot, as he quickly thought what to do, we‘re going to now conduct a water landing, and then—and then put your heads down, that whole routine, that whole drill.

HOLT:  Well, we know he said—he apparently said brace for impact at least. 

MATTHEWS:  Brace for impact, yes.  OK. 

HOLT:  And...

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Lester. 

Stay with us.  Earlier, our NBC station WNBC in New York spoke to one of the passengers aboard the flight. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We were flying out from La Guardia to Charlotte.

And about three or four minutes into the flight, the—I was sitting in 22-A.  So, the left engine just blew, fire, flames coming out of it.  And I was looking right at it, because I was sitting right there. 

And it just started smelling a lot like gasoline.  And a couple minutes after that, the pilot said, you guys have got to brace for a hard impact.  And that‘s when everyone started, to be honest, saying prayers. 

And looked over the water, and we thought we had a chance, because there was some water.  And got to give it to the pilot, man.  He—he did a hell of a landing. 

QUESTION:  What was the landing like? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Scary as (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION:  I mean, did you hit hard?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We hit hard. 

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION:  ... bounce out of their seats or...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  People were bleeding all over there, man.  The place where I got off, some lady‘s leg got cut up, yes.  But he did a good job. 

QUESTION:  What happened to you.  Did you stay in your seat?  You were belted in? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My head it.  You know, everyone‘s head hit.  We hit the water pretty hard.  But I‘m fine. 

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION:  Tell us how  you got out on the wing and what was going on out on that wing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  At first, chaos. 

But everyone—it was kind of orderly, man.  You know, after a while, everyone, we—I just kept saying, relax, relax, women and children first.  And then it just started filling with water quick. 

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION:  How long before rescue boats come? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Quick. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Boy, that man has a story to tell, as do the other 150 passengers.

We‘re joined right now by professor Bill Waldock.  He‘s an airplane

crash expert.  He‘s at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical, engineer, and he was

he has been studying all these years crashes involving bird strikes, a particular expert on this issue. 

Professor, thank you for joining us.  You were a Coast Guard officer as well. 

What is it about this?  Any way to guard against this, or is this just one of the hazards of flying? 

BILL WALDOCK, PROFESSOR OF AERONAUTICAL SCIENCE, EMBRY-RIDDLE

AERONAUTICAL UNIVERSITY:  Well, Chris, one of the things about bird strike events is, they‘re fairly rare, and, particularly in a circumstance like this, they‘re relatively hard to predict. 

It is highly unusual that it took out both engines simultaneously.  If the initial reports are correct, and it was a flock of geese, these are big birds.  Both engines ingest the birds, and they literally they start coming apart sometimes.  A lot of the reports on—the passengers were indicating there might have been a fire. 

It could be—I think Lester Holt mentions it was compressor stalls.  That‘s probably what they were seeing.  The smell would penetrate the cabin.  As much as anything, it‘s where they were that makes this such a phenomenal job on the part of the crew. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, explain to me what the—just an organic—a bird weighs how much, one of these birds?  How much do they weigh?  And how can they do so much damage to a big engine? 

WALDOCK:  Well, if these were Canadian geese, these birds can get anywhere from two to four pounds apiece. 

One bird probably wouldn‘t kill the—kill the engine.  Most modern engines are actually designed to accommodate ingesting a certain number of birds, up to a certain size, without any damage to the—the engine.  But when you have a whole flock, you may have dozens of birds going through the engine. 

Some of the things that are going to happen is, it‘s going to begin to destabilize the spinning wheels, the compressor wheels, first.  You start having blades fail.  And all of that propagates rearward through the engine, resulting in the loss of the engine. 

MATTHEWS:  So, tell me how the birds hit the plane.  There are two vectors.  They‘re going in one direction as a flock together, and the plane‘s going in the other direction.  They don‘t—they‘re not—the birds are not aware the plane is moving, or—you know, dogs jump out of the way.  Deer jump out of the way.  Birds can‘t do that, right? 

WALDOCK:  Well, it all depends on the closure angles.  They could have approached each other at almost any angle.  Part of the problem is, a jet engine is essentially a vacuum cleaner with a Cuisinart in it.  And it‘s going to pull anything into it that comes around it. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WALDOCK:  So, birds...

MATTHEWS:  Anything a pilot can do?  What is a pilot‘s vision like in these cases?  Can he—he can‘t apprehend the fact that it‘s happening, I assume, or he would have been able to do something. 

WALDOCK:  I have had one bird strike myself.  And I had just enough time to say a cuss word, and it was already over.  So, you‘re dealing with...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, it comes at you.  You don‘t go at it.  It comes at you, if you‘re a pilot, even a skilled pilot like this fellow, Sullenberger?

WALDOCK:  Yes.  He‘s probably going somewhere between 170 and 200 knots.  The closure rate on the birds, it‘s a blink of an eye, literally. 

MATTHEWS:  And how—how wide of an area does the sucking work from? 

I mean, can it pull the birds in from 10 feet away or in all directions? 

How does that work?

WALDOCK:  If they‘re toward the front of the engine, it probably could.  Again, we have had—jet engines will suck in just about anything that gets near the front end of them. 

Of course, when he‘s in flight, the effect is a little bit more directed.  But, if he passes through a large flock, obviously, he‘s going to encounter them. 

MATTHEWS:  How many years have you been studying this phenomenon of bird strikes, sir? 

Going on about 30 years. 

MATTHEWS:  How did you get into this field? 

WALDOCK:  Well, I‘m—I‘m primarily an accident investigator and...

MATTHEWS:  Right.   

WALDOCK:  ... a crash survivability specialist, started in the Coast Guard, and been at Embry-Riddle for about 25 years. 

MATTHEWS:  We have got experts on everything in this country, sir. 

Professor, thank you so much for joining us.  We—you couldn‘t be more appropriate to our study tonight—thank you—and to this report. 

Much more on U.S. Airways Flight 1549 that ditched into the Hudson River this afternoon in New York City, right off the coast there, right in the Hudson River.  All 155 passengers and crew were taken to safety.  No one was lost, apparently, no one seriously hurt. 

And, don‘t forget, President Bush‘s farewell address to the country comes up at the top of this hour, at 8:00 Eastern.  We are going to get to that a little later on in the program. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up: much more on that breaking story in New York.  A U.S. Airways jetliner crash-lands in the Hudson River, with all 155 people safe and sound.

Then, later, President Bush‘s farewell to the country—his farewell speech, at least—it‘s coming up at the top of this hour—ahead on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back. 

President Bush, who is going to speak to the nation tonight at 8:00, has released a very short written statement about this crash. 

“Laura and I are inspired by the skill and heroism of the flight crew who saved the plane, of course, and the people on it, as well as the dedication and selflessness of the emergency responders and the volunteers who rescued passengers from the icy waters of the Hudson.”

Well said. 

Welcome back to our breaking coverage of U.S. Airways 1549 flight, which crash and landed in the Hudson River.  All 155 people aboard were rescued safely. 

NBC‘s Jeff Rossen is at St. Luke‘s-Roosevelt Hotel—Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, where some of the injured were taken. 

Jeff, thank you.

Give me the condition.  We have heard that some of the people were suffering from various degrees of hypothermia.  There is one person with a sprain, all in all, an incredible safety record for those who performed as first-responders. 

JEFF ROSSEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I loved how you said earlier that you have a new hero, and that‘s the pilot.  And it‘s true, because this pilot really saved an entire plane full of people. 

Here, at St. Luke‘s-Roosevelt, we have 10 patients.  And, like you said, many of them are suffering from hypothermia.  In fact, all of them are, various degrees of it, but most of it on minor side of things. 

In fact, what they‘re using now is heating blankets to get them warmed up.  A lot of the people came in here literally soaking wet, because they were submerged in that icy water, which of course turns from water into ice when you‘re in this cold out here in New York City for just a few minutes today. 

And doctors, of course, are also saying here that it‘s one thing to stand out in the cold like this on a day like this, but it‘s quite another to be submerged in water.  So, the people here are very lucky, 10 patients here.  One flight attendant did get an arm fracture and went into surgery for lacerations, but she will be OK. 

And the others will be OK as well.  And, Chris, get this.  The doctors here say that these people could be treated and released tonight.  So, they may be home in time to watch their late local news about this, which is incredible. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they will have stories to tell as long as they live. 

And that‘s a lot better than being hurt or killed. 

And I want to ask you, as a pilot yourself, what do you make of this guy Sullenberger?  I guess piloting is one thing in nice weather, when everything‘s going fine.  But the ability to respond, as he did, to an incredible situation of both engines knocked out at low altitude, your plane full, you have got a river below you, you have got to act quickly, and he did, and he saved everybody. 

ROSSEN:  Well, it‘s like my old flight instructor used to tell me. 

You know, anybody can fly a plane straight and level, but it‘s when things get—fly in front of you, and you need to make a quick decision, that‘s when you separate the men from the boys.  And this guy really proved himself today. 

You have only seconds in a situation like this.  And bird strikes, there‘s no actual procedure in the manual in most airlines.  Not exactly sure about U.S. Airways.  But I spoke with an American Airlines captain who flew an Airbus and said there was no procedure for American, at least, about a bird strike.  But you do have flare-outs on engines.

What this pilot most likely did was make a decision to land in the Hudson.  That‘s first of all—whenever you‘re flying a plane, you‘re looking around at all moments, saying, “If I lose an engine right now, where will I go?”  Many pilots who fly off La Guardia Runway 4, what this pilot did, they fly right up the Hudson River.  It‘s actually a good stretch, in a very condensed area with people, to land an aircraft.  And he made that quick decision. 

What he basically did was bring the plane down to something called the stall speed.  In a car, when your car stalls, it means the engine goes off.  In a plane, it‘s something entirely different.  When a plane stalls it means there‘s no more lift on the wings.

And, in fact, when you land normally on a runway, your plane stalls just before you touch down.  And there‘s a stall speed.  On an Airbus A-320 it‘s in the low 100s, so it‘s probably about 120, 130 knots. 

He brought it literally right above the Hudson River, most likely, used the river basically as a runway.  Got that plane right down to stall speed and kissed the water, kept the flaps down.  You need flaps for something like this.  And also the landing gear, on this kind of case, up so the plane wouldn‘t flip over.  But he did a magnificent job.  We‘re talking, Chris, five or ten knots on either side.  This may have ended a whole lot differently. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you imagine being on a jetliner in the months ahead when the pilot comes on and says, “Hi.  I‘m Sully Sullenberg.  I‘m here.  You‘re safe.” 

Anyway, thank you very much.

Take a nice nap. 

ROSSEN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Thanks, Jeff.  Thanks for that great report. 

Jeff Rossen up in New York. 

NBC‘s Rehema Ellis is at Weehawken Ferry Terminal right across the Hudson River in New Jersey.  That‘s where other passengers were ferried after that. 

Rehema, I never thought I‘d see you tonight on the night of the president‘s big speech.  Talk about the passengers getting off there.

REHEMA ELLIS, NBC NEWS:  Yes, I wasn‘t expecting it either.  Chris, you know, it was a dramatic rescue on both sides of the Hudson River.  As you point out, I‘m on the New Jersey side. 

People were brought to this ferry terminal.  And the wonderful thing is that several of them, about a dozen were literally able to walk out of this terminal and got onto buses that were waiting for them.  About half a dozen were on stretchers, and they were taken to ambulances that were waiting. 

Many of the people were smiling.  Of course, they were covered in the

yellow tarp.  And they were soaking wet, but they were smiling.  One man

said—a testament to what you‘ve been talking about and Jeff was saying -

he said, “The pilot saved our lives.” 

One woman I talked to, as—I asked her a question, as she was being wheeled to—to an ambulance.  I said, “How are you doing?”  She came back with a response of a smile and thumbs up.  And that is a good sign. 

Doctors on this side, who were here to assist those passengers who got off that plane, they said, as you‘ve been reporting, many were suffering from hypothermia, impact injuries, and stress.  And they were being taken to the area hospitals here on the New Jersey side. 

But the doctor said again the good news is that many of these people, all of them they suspect, are going to be just fine.  And it‘s a dramatic point that you can make, coming off of these icy rivers, that anybody could be able to come out of this cold water.  And it is very cold right here on the pier, Chris, but to think of coming out of the water and to be OK is dramatic.  It‘s stunning.  And it really is very fortunate for these people and for their families. 

MATTHEWS:  Rehema, I think you should get inside.  You look very cold yourself.  Thank you very much.

ELLIS:  It is cold. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much for that very believable report about how cold it is, because everybody looks cold up there.  Thank you.  NBC‘s Rehema Ellis. 

Dr. Gabe Wilson is director of the emergency—for emergency medicine at New York St. Luke‘s Hospital—Roosevelt Hospital.

Doctor, thank you for joining us.  Give us a sense of, are there any serious medical dangers facing these survivors?

DR. GABE WILSON, ST. LUKE‘S HOSPITAL:  Well, I mean, there potentially were, but at this point we knew that I‘m aware of no one suffered from anything other than mild hypothermia, which is just amazing, considering you know, the potential exposure. 

So it just speaks to the pilot, as you mentioned, was incredibly well-trained and remained calm.  And I think the flight crew, you know, they could have easily panicked once they saw that, you know—the aircraft filling up with water.  But they remained calm.  And the people I talked to said that they got off the plane relatively smoothly.  And then they were rescued in the water.  So no one had more than mild hypothermia. 

MATTHEWS:  I was so impressed with you, doctor, at the news that the pilot of the plane, Mr. Sullenberger, walked down the aisle of the plane as it was—well, after it was sinking well into the water and everyone was off the plane and personally twice walked the entire length of the plane to make sure that here were no human beings left on that plane. 

WILSON:  Yes, I mean, absolutely.  He obviously did everything right and, you know, what was clearly—could have been a panic ridden situation.  And a lot of people are thanking him. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the conditions up there.  We just saw Rehema Ellis.  She looked cold herself.  I could see the breath coming out of her.  She was dressed very warmly, obviously. 

How long can a person last in that water, in today‘s temperature?

WILSON:  Well, the key differentiation is air exposure versus water exposure.  The air, you know, you can maintain a little longer without succumbing to hypothermia, but if you‘re submersed in cold water, it‘s a whole different story.  It can be literally minutes.  And for people that are older, elderly, they have other medical problems, it could literally be less than a minute until they succumb.  So it depends on the person and, at most, it will be  several minutes. 

MATTHEWS:  So the water temperature, we understand, is about 41 degrees.  It‘s above freezing.  And you said you can only last a few minutes in that kind of water temperature?

WILSON:  Correct.  You‘d rapidly succumb. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  Thank you once again, Dr. Gabe Wilson, for giving us that report. 

At the top of the hour, President Bush‘s farewell address to the nation.  It‘s going to be an important address from the president, who leaves office next Tuesday, of course.  We‘ll going to carry it live here on MSNBC with lots of commentary afterwards. 

But up next NBC‘s aviation analyst, Robert Hager, with much more from New York on that U.S. Airways jetliner that went down into the Hudson.  But all of the passengers made it out of that plane alive.  This one is going to go down in the history books if aviation.  History.

We‘ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with our continuing coverage of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which made an emergency landing in the Hudson River.  All 155 people were rescued to safety. 

NBC News aviation analyst Robert Hager is with us by phone along with NBC‘s Lester Holt, who‘s still up there in New York. 

Bob, it‘s so great to have you back for this.  Where do you see this in aviation history, an event like this?

ROBERT HAGER, NBC NEWS AVIATION ANALYST:  This is—this is certainly one of the outstanding and most upbeat stories in the end, the way it turned out.  It was New York‘s Governor Paterson who called it a miracle on the Hudson, and boy, I think he‘s right. 

A miracle that this crew could ditch the plane in the water.  Imagine all that land space and congested area, buildings and people around New York and even the waterways.  There are bridges everywhere.  That he could ditch this in the water the way he did with both engines apparently either completely disabled or partly disabled.  That was a miracle.  A miracle, once he ditched it, that the plane didn‘t sink, a miracle that the passengers had enough time to get out. 

And what a credit that is to the way the crew brought this plane in.  They must have had to bring it in very soft and very easy, keep their nose up so that it wouldn‘t sink and then keep it straight, because if this plane had skidded to the side as it hit the water, probably the fuselage would have broken open. 

And even going in straight as it did, if he hit the water too hard, the fuselage could have broken open.  If the fuselage hadn‘t opened at all, water would have come pouring in.  People never would have had time to get out of that aircraft, as they did.  So this is just quite something, Chris. 

I can think of two or three other crashes in the history of aviation where the pilots really were tremendous heroes, and this has got to be—join that list now. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about what it took to do that, Bob.  We were told that he has to get the plane down to stall speed.  He has to do it at just the moment that the plane‘s able to touch the water.  How hard is it to synchronize all that?

HAGER:  Well, I think it would have been very difficult to synchronize it.  And I don‘t know what power he had, what other systems might have quit as a result of the engines quitting.  And then there‘s a question of whether he could put the flaps down, as you normally would, to slow up to land.  It had to be very, very sensitive the way he handled that.  And, I mean, you‘re really going seat of the pants, and that‘s what experience is all about for a pilot. 

As many people as have observed, during this coverage, it‘s not something you train for in the—in the simulator.  I mean, this is, first of all, a bird strike is so unusual.  And then second, a bird strike with an—ending in a—ditching the plane over the water.  So that‘s not something that would happen enough that anybody would think to put it in the simulator. 

So—so he‘s really feeling the plane and doing it by hand, and doing it very, very expertly as this turned out. 

MATTHEWS:  I love the way we call it a bird strike.  I guess if birds could talk, they‘d call it a plane strike, because they both have to hit each other.  Let me—I‘m having fun here, because everybody is home safe or headed home safe. 

Let me bring in Lester Holt, Bob, who‘s on the scene.  You know what was heartwarming, watching this take place on television down here in Washington?   Was to see those New York ferry captains get their boats, their ferries right there so fast, Lester.  How did that happen?

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Well, you know, that‘s where they work, and I asked—I interviewed during the coverage earlier one of these ferryboat captains, and I said, “Let me ask you this.  Did you participate in the evacuation of lower Manhattan during 9/11?”

He said, “Yes, I was there.”  A lot of these folks were.  They were in the position to help out as people were stranded with the trade center rubble burning and took people over to New Jersey, and then they were in a position again to do this.  And thank goodness they were. 

The Coast Guard and police and New York City police, aviation responded, but these guys are right there.  The tour boats, the ferries that go back between New Jersey and New York to help out and kept a lot of those people from ever having to actually go into the water. 

And no doubt contributed to saving lives.  I mean, this is—this is an extraordinary set of circumstances.  I‘ve covered a lot of airplane accidents, and it‘s always interesting it‘s never one thing that causes an accident.  You can read the reports, and it‘s a series of things.  This happened and that happened, and because of this, that happened.  And you watch it fall together. 

Here‘s a case where everything fell—something obviously bad happened, but everything else happened right.  They didn‘t run into other airplanes or choppers in the area.  Because remember, once—once he starts losing altitude, this instrument flight plan that he had filed all the way to Charlotte, suddenly he‘s like a Cessna.  He‘s flying visual flight rules.  It‘s see and be seen, except unlike the Cessna with the helicopters flying by him, he doesn‘t have any more power.  So that just adds to this extraordinary bit of heroism and just really terrific airmanship. 

And let me just point out one other thing.  Earlier, you had asked me about the description of what the passengers were seeing.  I was giving you a possibility.  We don‘t know that they, in fact, suffered a compression stall and flames shooting out.  That would be consistent, however, with losing an engine during—during a bird strike or something like that. 

But this will all come out.  Those flight recorders—between the flight recorders and the flight data recorder, the air traffic control tapes, the pilot‘s testimony, the passengers, they will get a very, very good second-by-second description of exactly what happened today. 

MATTHEWS:  Lester, it turns out that right after you gave your report, we had a taped interview with someone on the plane who gave an exact, play by play of what he witnessed as a passenger absolutely tracking what you said was to be expected in that circumstance.  And thank you, Lester. 

Thank you, Bob. 

It‘s so great to see the straight arrows of America, the guys who drive ferryboats and fly planes, the unglamorous jobs, some of these.  And they just come out, and they do it when there‘s a crisis and they save lives. 

HAGER:  Hear, hear. 

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s just an inspiring thing to see people who just quickly go to the aid of other people in a crisis and save lives.  It‘s just wonderful.  Anyway, thank you both. 

Anyway, the pilot of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 did, of course, a masterful job saving those passengers aboard his plane.  When we return, a former American Airlines pilot tells us what it‘s like to fly the big planes, a jet, and make these sorts of life and death decisions in seconds. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with our coverage of the emergency landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River.  We‘re watching it right there when it happened.  Of course it‘s right next to New York City. 

Tom Casey is a former pilot for American Airlines. 

Tom, it‘s great having you on with your expertise.  I guess it‘s easy to be a pilot when everything‘s fine.  What do you do when things aren‘t fine.  All of a sudden, you get a bird strike, a phrase I‘ve never heard in my life, and I guess you fellows and women up there who fly think about that occasionally. 

TOM CASEY, PILOT, AMERICAN AIRLINES:  Well, you train to—you train to confront the unexpected.  And one of the points that I want to make is, and people should reflect on this, that this was a normal operation until suddenly something very rapid and very catastrophic happened. 

The captain didn‘t have a lot of time to reflect on it.  He was flying by the seat of the pants.  We don‘t know what indications he had in the cockpit, because evidently he lost both engines. 

In any case, this was a case where a terrific pilot analyzed the situation, took appropriate action, and put the plane down in probably the only place in the metropolitan area that would be safe for a landing like this, and everybody survived.  There are a lot of human factors, issues that have to be reflected on, examined, and talked about. 

And the cabin crew did a fabulous job.  The passengers followed orders.  You saw them standing on the wing.  There was no protest.  Everybody wanted to be directed.  And the crew was competent and forceful in their direction, obviously.  They had everybody out.  And the captain made his sweep through the airplane twice. 

And it‘s all laudable.  I think it just goes right to what‘s great about airline flying and being an airline pilot.  I think you should reflect that the airline industry, since 9/11, pilots and flight attendants, have been under a lot of pressure, financial and otherwise, because the airline industry itself has been suffering. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘ve been losing their pensions.  A lot of these older pilots who have been counting on a pension all their life, and they have seen it dramatically reduced.  Let me ask you what you do when these birds strike.  It‘s an odd phrase, bird strike.  Can you—when you fly by instruments, can you possibly know what‘s going to happen?  If you fly visually, can you in any way move the plane out of the way when you see it coming?  Is there any way to stop it from happening once it happens? 

CASEY:  No, typically, because the birds took off in a flock.  They were flying.  They might have come out of nowhere.  The captain may have seen them or he may not have seen them.  It‘s—the engines are out under the wing.  But what he did definitely do is he felt in his hands whatever the problem was.  He knew that he had to go down and he knew it rapidly.  And he—in these circumstances you have to make a choice and you don‘t have a second guess.  You have to make the right decision immediately.  There‘s no going back. 

And the main thing is keeping up the energy.  He kept the energy up because he made a picture perfect landing. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me, at the altitude he was at when the birds struck, and he knew he had no more engine left, how much distance did he have to travel by a glide path at that point? 

CASEY:  I don‘t know the altitude that he actually lost power, where he lost power.  I heard earlier he crossed the George Washington Bridge at 900 feet.  If that‘s true, then he was on a perfect visual landing path and he put it down in the center of the river. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow. 

CASEY:  And the terrific—as you pointed out earlier, terrific assistance of all of the vessels in the harbor.  They were right on it.  I mean, the heroism—it‘s a New York moment, but it‘s a moment for America.  It‘s terrific. 

MATTHEWS:  Regular people doing super jobs.  Thank you very much, Tom Casey, former pilot for American Airlines.  When we return, what‘s next in the investigation into today‘s emergency landing?  There‘s always an investigation to find out what happened.  We‘ll get the latest from Manhattan, where that jet liner floats tonight on the Hudson River. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with our coverage of the emergency landing of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River, just off New York City.  NBC‘s Mike Taibbi is at 14th Street and 10th Avenue, on the far west side of Manhattan, near where the plane is tethered.  Mike Taibbi, what a story. 

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  It‘s amazing.  You know, it‘s only January, but you know at the end of this calendar year, this is still going to be one of the extraordinary stories.  You think about the sequence of events today, 3:26 in the afternoon, 20 degrees outside, freezing, plane full of people, 150 passengers, three flight attendants, two pilots; they take off. 

Within three minutes, what apparently was a double bird strike into a flock of birds.  The pilot radios, doesn‘t may day, says he‘s lost thrust in both engines.  The tower thinks about turning him around back to Laguardia.  He says, no.  What‘s that air field to my right, to the west?  That would be Teteboro airport on the other side of the Hudson.  He can‘t make that.  Transmissions end.

Three minutes later, he‘s in the water.  According to passengers who were interviewed, the pilot, whose name is Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, from California, with 30 years experience with US Air, let the plane land in a very calm way, very gentle landing for a water landing.  So much so that when we looked at the fuselage as soon as we got there, there was no deformation at all, which meant you could open the door, open the hatch.  People could get out. 

Very often in these types of accidents, when there are water landings and water crashes, the plane crumples, the fuselage crumples.  It did not happen.  That aircraft stayed afloat for more than two hours, Chris.  We watched it float down the Hudson.  They got everybody off.  Of 150 passengers, 146 weren‘t even sent to the hospital.  As far as we could tell, Ray Kelly, the police commissioner, telling one of our colleagues, Mario Garcia, a short time ago, that most of the people were just being treated, identified, being reconnected with their loved ones, et cetera, with just a few people brought to the hospital. 

An amazing story, as you point out.  The aircraft now tied up down at the southern tip of Manhattan, near Battery Park, where a team from the National Transportation Safety Board will begin their investigation tomorrow, not of a tragedy, but of an accident.  An amazing story, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike Taibbi, great report.  Thank you for summing up the amazing nature of today‘s events.  Mike Taibbi.  Our coverage of Flight 1549 will continue throughout the night, of course.  But up next, President Bush prepares in just a few minutes to bid farewell to the country on national television.  It‘s going to be a live address at the top of this hour, 8:00 Eastern.  Many Americans say they won‘t miss this president, but let‘s hear what he has to say.  Let‘s hear his score card and let‘s hear how he scores his successes and failures over the last eight years.  It‘s going to be a moment of history itself.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  In just a few minutes, literally, President Bush will say his goodbyes to the American people in a live address from the East Room of the White House.  We are joined by MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, Democrat strategist Bob Shrum, the Politico‘s Roger Simon, and “USA Today‘s” Susan Page.  Susan, you first and then in order around the clock.  Has this president made the American people proud to be Americans the last eight years? 

SUSAN PAGE, “THE USA TODAY”:  Americans are proud to be Americans.  But Americans, I think, do not feel this has been a good eight years.  They think the country is off track.  In our poll, taken last weekend, Americans give President Bush the lowest ratings—say history will give the harshest judgment to President Bush of the last seven presidents, including Richard Nixon. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum, has he made you proud to be an American, I mean especially proud? 

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Let me tell you, those guys in the Hudson River, who went and rescued those people, make me proud to be an American.  George Bush has had a disastrous presidency.  I don‘t think he is the worst president in American history.  James Buchanan almost lost the Civil War before it started. 

But whether it is Iraq, an economy in shambles, division—I think about 9/11, Chris, and you said this at the time; he had the opportunity to unite this country as it‘s never been united before.  Instead, he divided it and he created an intolerant politics that finally crashed and burned in 2008. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, no relation to James Buchanan. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I‘m going to talk about James later.  Let me say about President Bush, he was converted in the first year of his president by 9/11 to this philosophy and ideology that we have to go abroad and fight or we will never be secure at home, that the great danger is isolationism or protectionism.  He repeats the identical themes right in here, right up to the end.  He is certainly consistent. 

In my own view, his policies have not been a success.  They have been a failure.  We are going to have to wait and see what happens. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t hold him responsible.  You talk about him as if he is a victim of the body snatchers, that he was somehow taken over. 

BUCHANAN:  No, I think he converted, Chris.  He has the zeal of a convert.  Right to the end, same terminology, you can see it in every other speech. 

MATTHEWS:  Roger Simon, as a journalist, can you say the country has been proud to be American because of his leadership? 

ROGER SIMON, “THE POLITICO”:  I think we can be proud that we live in the country that is better and bigger than our presidents, and that we managed to survive eight years of George Bush. a truly tragic presidency.  It shows the strength of democracy that we‘re all still here and functioning.  I hope the financial system can hang on. 

This has been, you know, a terrible eight years.  It has been a terrible eight years for George Bush, a man I think who never really wanted the job, never had a passion for the job, and is very, very happy to be leaving.  As happy as his enemies are to see him go, George Bush is happier to go. 

MATTHEWS:  John Kerry, who is not good at telling jokes, a couple of years ago told a joke about if you don‘t study in school, you end up in Iraq.  That was misconstrued by his critics, like Senator Clinton, as saying you will be drafted.  What he meant to say—clearly what he meant to say was, if you don‘t study, if you don‘t have intellectual curiosity, you don‘t understand the world, you make mistakes like taking America into an Islamic country and become an army of occupation. 

Was his lack of curiosity and interest in subjects like the Middle East the biggest problem of this president?  He lacked curiosity about what he was doing. 

PAGE:  I don‘t know that I think that is true.  I mean, President Bush, in fact, has been a big reader, he says.  And I believe him that he has read a lot of history.  But I‘m not sure that I think—

MATTHEWS:  Do you hear the laughter, because he said he read the books.  Is there any evidence of knowledge growing? 

BUCHANAN:  I think Roger‘s point is really well taken.  I think George

Bush is a tragic figure.  I really do.  I think he is a good man, doing his

damndest to do well, doing his best, believing he is the Churchill of his

generation, going ahead.  He is an unreflective man.  He doesn‘t think on -

take a look what happened, what went wrong.  And it‘s all here in the speech.  It is good versus evil again. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum, he said it was one of his disappointments.  He said he was disappointed in not finding WMD.  I find that a strange logical construction, disappointed he couldn‘t find WMD.  He took us to war, he said, because of the threat of WMD in Iraq.  Not finding it would seem to remove the underpinnings of his very philosophy and his rational for war.  Strange use of the word disappointment.  There he is reflecting. 

SHRUM:  It sure is.  What I‘m disappointed in is that we went to war, and that thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed.  Pat is right that he is unreflective.  Pat is wrong that he is a tragic figure.  I think, instead, he has given us an American tragedy.  All you have to do is look at the excerpts of this speech tonight, and you can see how unreflective he is. 

You know, there are only two farewell addresses that are great and famous, Washington‘s warning against entangling alliances and Eisenhower‘s warning against the military industrial complex.  They are only good when they look to the future and have a lesson and reflect on America‘s essence and its possibilities.  This president is doing the opposite of that tonight.  He‘s giving us a lame propaganda piece. 

MATTHEWS:  Here he is speaking along those lines you mentioned, Pat.  Clarity, you would argue perhaps delusional: “I have often spoken to you about good and evil.”  This is the president speaking tonight.  “This has made some uncomfortable.  But good and evil are present in this world.  And between the two, there can be no compromise.” 

BUCHANAN:  We know what is wrong with what Hamas is doing, for example.  Is it a good thing that there are 6,000 dead and wounded Palestinians that are being killed there, men, women and children, in order to break Hamas?  Is that all good?  Or is there good and evil both in these things? 

There is a mixture of good and evil in all of us and all over this world.  To suggest a Manichean world, where we are all good, and they are all evil -- 

MATTHEWS:  There is evil in Guantanamo.  There is evil in Abu Ghraib. 

There is evil torture chambers everywhere. 

BUCHANAN:  There is evil in things America has done in its history and some wonderful things America has done. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum, last thought?

SHRUM:  We are going to say goodbye to Bush.  His approval ratings, Susan, have actually gone up slightly.  And I think that is because he is leaving and people are so happy he is leaving. 

MATTHEWS:  You won‘t even give him a break at the last thought here.  Roger Simon for straight journalism, then Susan for more on that, your thoughts on his assessment by historians? 

SIMON:  I think historians will rank him as one of the worst presidents in American history, perhaps the worst in modern history.  He has a race to run with Richard Nixon on that.  But I will also say, it is too early to rank a president, when he still has a few days left in office. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘ve got to go.  Thank you.  You don‘t have a few seconds left.  Anyway, thank you, Pat Buchanan.  Thank you, Bob Shrum, Roger Simon and Susan Page of “USA Today.”  I‘ll be right back with more analyses after the president‘s farewell address.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now, and President Bush‘s speech is coming. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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