Thoughts on US 1549

Update, January 19:

More information continues to emerge over the remarkable saga of US Airways flight 1549. Readers can Google the news stories and get plenty; we linked to New York Times pieces at the end of this column, below the jump. A good resource is Flight International, which always excels at accident reporting.

Here are some more of our thoughts, none of which has made it into the media so far as we know.

This isn’t the first time an airliner was brought down by birds. Way back around 1961-62, an Eastern Airlines Lockheed Electra crashed on take-off from Boston’s Logan Airport after hitting a flock of starlings so thick that all four turbo-prop engines failed. This happened right at lift-off. All aboard were killed, if memory serves correctly.

Did the Airbus flight envelope protection system help US 1549’s pilots control the airplane as it descended to the Hudson River? The system is designed to prevent stalls, and it’s believed the captain properly had a nose-up attitude in order to hit the water with the tail of the plane and minimize impact to the front of the aircraft. The maneuver was tricky to say the least without engine power. Did the computer system help prevent a crash? Update, 8:00 PM PST January 19: The Wall Street Journal, in an article dated January 20 and posted on its website January 19, confirms that the flight envelope system was operating and contributed to the safe landing of the airplane.

Was this a crash, like the media reported? In fact, this was a controlled water landing and, yup, the aircraft was destroyed–but was it a crash in the classic sense of the word? Even the flight attendants described the contact with the water like a “hard landing.”

Hand-wringing over birds around the airport was overblown in this case. The A320 didn’t strike the birds around the airport; the plane was miles away at 3,200 ft. Birds at the airport had nothing to do with this accident.

Speaking of over-wrought hand-wringing, Fox News’ Sean Hannity was worse than usual. This dip claimed the accident was the fault of US Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the environmentalists and liberals because of laws protecting Canadian geese around airports. This one is over the top even for this right-wing wack job.

Speaking of wack jobs, KIRO Radio (Seattle) conservative talk show host Dori Monson had one call into his program as he was doing a superb job interviewing pilots about the US Airways incident. This caller wanted President Bush to invade Canada because the birds thought to have struck the A320 were Canadian geese. Dori, a bit of a wack job himself on occasion, exceled at his coverage and knows the ridiculous when he sees it. He so wanted to talk to this lady, but she hung up before he got to her. (Dori’s screener got her subject matter.)

Original Post:

We were preparing to leave town Thursday and watching the noon news on (Seattle) King 5 (NBC) when the dramatic live images of US Airways Flight 1549 flashed onto the screen.

Like anyone watching, we were spellbound by the drama unfolding. We usually get called whenever there is an air crash in this country, and this was no exception. KIRO TV (Seattle, CBS) was the first to call us. KIRO caught up to us literally five minutes before we were to board a Washington State Ferry, and with a quick interview, we were off. (And off this column for the next four days, to all of you who visited Thursday looking for news and insight.)

This far after the fact, much is already known about what happened and when, and the remarkable flying job of the pilot, now known to the world so familiarly as Sully.

And remarkable it was. He deserves all the accolades he’s been getting, but with only a couple of exceptions (NBC News’ Brian Williams and one print story we’ve seen), little recognition has been afforded the co-pilot or the cabin crew.

The coordination in the cockpit was critical to the successful ditching of the Airbus A320. The flight attendants had to be ready with their evacuation of the cabin with little notice. We’ve not seen anything so far about what communication they had with the cockpit as the crisis unfolded, or whether they had to assess the situation themselves and be prepared for the “splash landing.” Certainly the pilots were busy, to put it mildly.

We look forward to the full story emerging.

Ironically, earlier in the day on January 15, the day of the controlled splash landing, US Airways issued its notice to the media for the company’s annual media day, to which we are always invited and attend. The company got plenty of media attention in just a few minutes: our receipt was at 11:41 am PST; US 1549 splashed down just 44 minutes later.

We hope US Airways brings the flight crew to the Media Day. We, for one, would love to honor them in person.

Update, January 19: The New York Times had two good, detailed stories, one entitled The Afterlife of Near-Death; and the other entitled, 1549 to Tower: “We’re gonna end up in the Hudson. This one provides a good detail of what went on in the cockpit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *