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Charlotte final destination for most on down plane

Thursday, January 15, 2009

By IEVA M. AUGSTUMS, AP Business Writer

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — 

Most of the passengers aboard a US Airways flight that crashed Thursday into New York's Hudson River were headed for the Queen City, including several employees of the two banks that dominate the city's business community.

Officials at Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. said more than two dozen of their employees were among the 155 people who survived when the pilot ditched his disabled jetliner into the frigid river after a collision with a flock of birds apparently knocked out both engines of the Airbus 320.

Rescuers pulled the passengers and crew into boats as the plane sank. One victim suffered two broken legs, a paramedic said, but there were no other reports of serious injuries.

Bank of America spokeswoman Nicole Nastacie said 23 employees of the nation's largest bank were aboard, while Wells Fargo spokeswoman Mary Eshet said: "We are aware of three employees on the airplane and we have confirmed they are safe."

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said Flight 1549 had just taken off Thursday afternoon from LaGuardia Airport en route to Charlotte when the crash occurred in the river near 48th Street in midtown Manhattan. The airline is based Tempe, Ariz., but operates its largest hub at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

"I just can't believe it happened. It's shocking," said Sheikh Ali, 50, of West Caldwell, N.J., who works at a telecommunications company in Connecticut and was waiting at Charlotte-Douglas for a business partner who was on board. "I could have been on that plane. It's very hard for me to believe this has happened."

Ali said his company was able to confirm his partner was safe, and he planned to spend the rest of the night trying to get in touch with his friend. "I'm just glad he made it," he said.

US Airways Charlotte hub spokeswoman Terri Pope said Charlotte was the final destination for 104 of the passengers aboard. The flight was still listed on information screens as a pending after it crashed, with the screens reporting it was scheduled to land at 5:16 p.m. and pull into gate 5B.

Pope said the airline was working with the National Transportation Safety Board to assist passengers and their families, providing food and drinks at Charlotte-Douglas for families gathered in private.

"They took off, and a short time after they heard a boom," said Donald Jones, an anchor at WNCN-TV, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh, whose father was on the flight.

"Dad said the first thought is, 'You think the worst.' ... The pilot said, 'brace yourself, everyone, for a hard landing," Jones said on the station's 7 p.m. newscast. "He said it was almost just silent, and I guess maybe that was because maybe the engines were out. He said everyone was calm."

Jones said his father was called his wife on a borrowed cell phone, and was taken by authorities to a restaurant in Weehauken, N.J.

Terry Trippler, an airline and travel expert based in Minneapolis, said flights on the New York to Charlotte route are normally filled with workers in the financial services industry. Years ago, he said, corporations tried to make sure a large number of employees did not all take the same flight.

"As the years have gone by that has been a moot point with a lot of corporations," he said.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo completed its purchase of Charlotte's Wachovia Corp. last month, and Eshet said Wachovia had several businesses with operations in New York, including corporate investment banking.

Bank of America is based in Charlotte, but its corporate investment bank is in New York, where the company also has a large retail and consumer banking business. Bank of America also acquired New York-based Merrill Lynch & Co. on Jan. 1 and work continues on the acquisition, which could depend on a fresh multibillion-dollar aid package from the federal government.

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Associated Press writer Mitch Weiss contributed to this report.

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