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Pilot: 'Sickening' feeling before river landing

The pilot of US Airways Flight 1549, which ditched into New York's Hudson River last month, calmly radioed to air traffic controllers, "We're going to be in the Hudson."
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hero pilot Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger said the moments after both engines of US Airways Flight 1549 lost power were the worst of his life.

He told Katie Couric in a CBS "60 Minutes" interview it was "the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling" he's ever had.

Sullenberger said his first reaction when birds flew into the plane's engines was disbelief.

He glided the Airbus A320 over the George Washington Bridge and into the Hudson River. All 155 people aboard survived.

The captain praised New York City's first responders. He said "thank you seems totally inadequate" and he has "a debt of gratitude" he fears he may never be able to repay.

The interview is scheduled to air at 7 p.m. EST Sunday.

Audio recordings released
Meanwhile, audio recordings released Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration, reflect the initial tension between tower controllers and the cockpit and then confusion about whether the passenger jet went into the river.

Sullenberger calmly radioed to air traffic controllers, "We're going to be in the Hudson."

"Emergency inbound," one tower controller says as he tries to arrange for the stricken plane to land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.

"Can I get him in for Runway One?" the controller at LaGuardia Airport asks the tower at Teterboro.

"Runway One, that's good," says the tower controller at Teterboro.

"1529 turn right two-eight-zero" for Teterboro, the tower at LaGuardia orders the plane's pilot.

"We can't do it," replies the plane's pilot.

"Which runway would you like at Teterboro?" asks the tower at LaGuardia.

"We're going to be in the Hudson," the pilot replies.

"I'm sorry, say again," an air traffic controller responded after hearing the pilot's message that he was ditching the Airbus A320.

There was no response from the aircraft.

Contact lost
After contact with the plane is lost, the tension in the tower at LaGuardia is clearly reflected in the voice of a controller. He sighs and then whispers to himself, "Alright" as he returns to his normal duties.

"He lost all thrust" and "they're gone, all frequencies," the controller tells another plane that is preparing to take off.

Sullenberger has told FAA investigators he glided the plane into the river rather than risking a catastrophic crash in a densely populated area. All 155 aboard survived.

The trouble began moments after Flight 1549 took off on Jan. 15.

"Hit birds, we lost thrust in both engines, we're turning back to LaGuardia," the aircraft reported.

Controllers handling the departure told the LaGuardia tower: "Tower, stop your departures, we got an emergency returning." After identifying the flight, they said, "He lost all engines, he lost the thrust in the engines, he is returning immediately."

But less than 20 seconds later, Flight 1549 reported: "We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson." That led to the unsuccessful scramble to divert the plane to Teterboro.

Bird strikes
The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday they've confirmed there were birds in both the airliner's engines. Remains from both engines have also been sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington to have the particular bird species identified.

The safety board also said that an engine surge experienced by aircraft during a flight two days before the accident was due to faulty temperature sensor. The sensor was replaced, and the engine was examined and found to be undamaged before being returned to service.

The flight data recorder revealed no anomalies or malfunctions in either engine until Sullenberger reported striking birds, the board said.

Engine maintenance records also show the engines had been serviced in compliance with the FAA's most recent safety directive, the board said.

Last week, the aircraft was moved from the barge where it had been docked in Jersey City, N.J., to a secure salvage yard in Kearny, N.J, where it will remain throughout the estimated 12 to 18 months the NTSB investigation could take.