Pilots Admired View Before Hitting Birds

Updated: Tuesday, 09 Jun 2009, 11:31 AM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 09 Jun 2009, 10:56 AM EDT

WASHINGTON – A passenger seated in the rear of US Airways Flight 1549 after the plane ditched into the Hudson River said Tuesday the water was rising so rapidly around him that he feared the plane was going to sink with passengers trapped inside.

Billy Campbell, who was seated in the second-to-last row of the Airbus A320, said he struggled over seats to get to the front of the plane — his only shot at survival.

“My concern was that the plane was going to sink and we were going to be stuck in the back,” Campbell, of Woodlawn Hills, Calif., told the National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday.

The board is holding three days of hearing into the Jan. 15 accident. Among the concerns are the ability of aircraft engines to withstand collisions with large birds.

Campbell said the Airbus A320 engine he saw out his window was a “bonfire” after the plane struck a flock of Canada geese shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport.

National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt, chairing the hearing, said the accident has made safety officials, the aviation industry and the public more aware of the growing likelihood of bird-plane collisions.

Another area of investigative focus at the hearing will be the state of training for pilots on handling double-engine failure.

Flight 1549 had climbed to about 3,000 feet when it struck the geese and lost thrust in both engines. Capt. Chesley Sullenberger ditched the plane into the Hudson rather than risk crashing in the densely populated area. All 155 people aboard survived.

Sullenberger told the board that he didn’t attempt to return to LaGuardia because he thought, “I cannot afford to be wrong.”

“I had to make sure I could make it before I chose that option,” Sullenberger said.

In recent decades, many bird populations — including Canada geese — have rebounded thanks partly to environmental regulations. Air travel has also soared since deregulation in the late 1970s encouraged greater competition and lower fares.

With more planes and more birds in the sky, “we have a situation here — almost a numbers game — where eventually something is going to happen,” said Michael Begier, national coordinator of the Agriculture Department’s airport wildlife hazards program. “We’re very fortunate that Flight 1549 was not a catastrophe. It is a warning shot.”

The Federal Aviation Administration is testing bird-detecting radar that may help airports manage nearby bird populations. Some experts have also suggested aircraft engines should be designed to withstand bigger birds. Newer engines on commercial airliners have to withstand an 8-pound bird, but Canada geese can weigh twice that.

“You could probably build an aircraft engine that could withstand a 20-pound bird with today’s technology, but that engine will never fly” because it will be too heavy, Sumwalt said. “We can’t do a whole lot more to beef up the aircraft to withstand birds.”

Disrupting bird habitats close to airports would probably not have helped Flight 1549. An analysis of remains of Canada geese in the plane’s engines showed that they were migratory — perhaps from Labrador, Canada — not part of the Canada geese population that lives year-round in the New York area, according to the National Zoo’s Migratory Bird Center. Moreover, the plane-geese collision occurred several miles from the airport.

Another concern is whether the FAA and airlines need to revise emergency procedures for a double engine failure. Those procedures for pilots usually involve a checklist of many steps, and there are different checklists depending upon the problem. If the plane is flying at a high altitude — airliners typically cruise above 20,000 feet — pilots may have time to identify and correct the problem.

At a low altitude that’s more difficult. Flight 1549’s first officer, Jeffrey Skiles, has said he only made it part of the way through a checklist for restarting the engines before the forced landing.

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Pilots Admired View Before Hitting Birds

Updated: Tuesday, 09 Jun 2009, 11:31 AM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 09 Jun 2009, 10:56 AM EDT

WASHINGTON – A passenger seated in the rear of US Airways Flight 1549 after the plane ditched into the Hudson River said Tuesday the water was rising so rapidly around him that he feared the plane was going to sink with passengers trapped inside.

Billy Campbell, who was seated in the second-to-last row of the Airbus A320, said he struggled over seats to get to the front of the plane — his only shot at survival.

“My concern was that the plane was going to sink and we were going to be stuck in the back,” Campbell, of Woodlawn Hills, Calif., told the National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday.

The board is holding three days of hearing into the Jan. 15 accident. Among the concerns are the ability of aircraft engines to withstand collisions with large birds.

Campbell said the Airbus A320 engine he saw out his window was a “bonfire” after the plane struck a flock of Canada geese shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport.

National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt, chairing the hearing, said the accident has made safety officials, the aviation industry and the public more aware of the growing likelihood of bird-plane collisions.

Another area of investigative focus at the hearing will be the state of training for pilots on handling double-engine failure.

Flight 1549 had climbed to about 3,000 feet when it struck the geese and lost thrust in both engines. Capt. Chesley Sullenberger ditched the plane into the Hudson rather than risk crashing in the densely populated area. All 155 people aboard survived.

Sullenberger told the board that he didn’t attempt to return to LaGuardia because he thought, “I cannot afford to be wrong.”

“I had to make sure I could make it before I chose that option,” Sullenberger said.

In recent decades, many bird populations — including Canada geese — have rebounded thanks partly to environmental regulations. Air travel has also soared since deregulation in the late 1970s encouraged greater competition and lower fares.

With more planes and more birds in the sky, “we have a situation here — almost a numbers game — where eventually something is going to happen,” said Michael Begier, national coordinator of the Agriculture Department’s airport wildlife hazards program. “We’re very fortunate that Flight 1549 was not a catastrophe. It is a warning shot.”

The Federal Aviation Administration is testing bird-detecting radar that may help airports manage nearby bird populations. Some experts have also suggested aircraft engines should be designed to withstand bigger birds. Newer engines on commercial airliners have to withstand an 8-pound bird, but Canada geese can weigh twice that.

“You could probably build an aircraft engine that could withstand a 20-pound bird with today’s technology, but that engine will never fly” because it will be too heavy, Sumwalt said. “We can’t do a whole lot more to beef up the aircraft to withstand birds.”

Disrupting bird habitats close to airports would probably not have helped Flight 1549. An analysis of remains of Canada geese in the plane’s engines showed that they were migratory — perhaps from Labrador, Canada — not part of the Canada geese population that lives year-round in the New York area, according to the National Zoo’s Migratory Bird Center. Moreover, the plane-geese collision occurred several miles from the airport.

Another concern is whether the FAA and airlines need to revise emergency procedures for a double engine failure. Those procedures for pilots usually involve a checklist of many steps, and there are different checklists depending upon the problem. If the plane is flying at a high altitude — airliners typically cruise above 20,000 feet — pilots may have time to identify and correct the problem.

At a low altitude that’s more difficult. Flight 1549’s first officer, Jeffrey Skiles, has said he only made it part of the way through a checklist for restarting the engines before the forced landing.

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