10 Years On: The day a miracle took place on the Hudson

It's hard to believe that the plane crash that would become forever known as 'the miracle on the Hudson' happened 10 years ago today.

The event unfolded in the morning hours here in New Zealand. At the time, I was doing what I often do as a news junkie - listening to a live scanner stream of New York's emergency services.

I was expecting to listen to an hour or so of the regular stuff. A fire, a car accident, maybe a shooting.

However, I hadn't been listening long when the attention-grabbing sound of station alarms and energised dispatchers boomed across the airwaves.

"Report of a plane down in the Hudson River," was the first indication that something major was happening.

In the few minutes that followed, hundreds of 911 calls to emergency services reported a passenger plane floating on the Hudson River with passengers standing on its wings.

I remember frantically calling the Newshub (then 3 News) newsroom to alert them of the breaking news.

"There's nothing on CNN," they said to me.

"Give them five minutes," I said.

Once networks had their choppers in the air, the event was live on every channel.

The story has been told many times of how the hero captain, Chesley Sullenberger, saved the lives of all 155 people onboard, and how the crew managed to get them out of the aircraft before it filled with water.

It's been immortalised in the Tom Hanks movie Sully. But it didn't all start quite so dramatically.

At 3:24pm (local time), the Seattle-bound flight with callsign 'Cactus 1549' took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York.

Three minutes later, came the first sign of a problem. Sullenberger contacted air traffic control.

"Mayday, mayday, mayday. Uh, this is uh, Cactus fifteen thirty nine - we've hit birds, we've lost thrust in both engines we're turning back towards LaGuardia." 

Less than a minute later, air traffic controllers discussed landing options with Sullenberger, who believed they wouldn't make it back to LaGuardia. Teterboro Airport in New Jersey is suggested, but the response from 'Sully' to this option will be etched into the memories of pilots and air controllers for years.

"We can't do it. We're gonna be in the Hudson."

At 3.30pm, the aircraft disappeared from radar. It was landing on the water. 

It's interesting that one of the most famous flights in history was also one of the shortest - US Airways 1549 was in the air for just over five minutes.

Initial investigators appeared to attempt to pin the crash - and with that, all liability - on captain Sullenberger.

A series of simulated re-enactments carried out by NTSB investigators showed the aircraft could have made it back to an airport safely.

Chesley Sullenberger with Tom Hanks who played the role of Sullenberger in the movie Sully.
Chesley Sullenberger with Tom Hanks who played the role of Sullenberger in the movie Sully. Photo credit: Getty Images.

In a quote taken from a transcript of the NTSB investigation, Sullenberger argued that pilots in control of the simulations went into the flight knowing they were going to hit birds, lose both engines and need to make an emergency landing.

"The immediate turn made by the pilots during the simulations did not reflect, or account for, real-world considerations," Sullenberger said.

A series of new simulations that factored in response time and the time taken to run through emergency checklists were carried out.

None of these simulated flights landed safely.

Captain Sullenberger retired in 2010 after 30 years with US Airways and now works as an aviation safety consultant and writer.

The aircraft itself, an Airbus A320, is on display at Carolinas Aviation Museum in North Carolina.

It's a location that's on the bucket list of any aviation geek, such as myself.

Newshub.

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz