NEW YORK – A US Airways jet crash-landed Thursday in the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey after a flock of birds apparently struck its engines — but all 155 people on board are thought to have survived, and the pilot is being hailed as a hero.
Passengers were sent fleeing into the icy, 35-degree waters when the Airbus 320 went down near 48th Street in Manhattan shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport.
"We've had a 'Miracle on 34th Street' and now we have a miracle on the Hudson," said New York Gov. David Paterson.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the pilot told him he walked through the plane twice to make sure everyone was off before exiting the aircraft.
The pilot of the plane was Chesley B. Sullenburger III, his daughter confirmed to FOXNews.com.
She declined to give additional details, but an official familiar with the accident told The Associated Press that the 57-year-old California resident is a former fighter pilot who runs a safety consulting firm in addition to flying commercial aircraft.
National Air Traffic Controllers Union spokesman Doug Church said the pilot reported a "double bird strike" less than a minute after takeoff. The pilot then said he spotted an airport below, in New Jersey. He first intended to make an emergency landing there but instead took the plane down in the river.
"There were eyewitness reports the plane may have flown into a flock of birds," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said. "Right now we don't have any indication this was anything other than an accident."
Doug Parker, chairman and chief executive officer of US Airways Group, would not speculate on what caused the incident but said at a news conference after the crash that the company will cooperate fully with investigators.
As amazement turned to questions, a team of 20 National Transportation Safety Board investigators began looking into how Thursday's bizarre near-disaster happened.
Most of the passengers were held at the New York City ferry terminal at 42nd Street after the crash, though at least two were taken away on stretchers. The New York City Fire Department said 78 people were injured, but the extent of the injuries wasn't immediately known. They were taken to hospitals in New York and New Jersey.
Flight 1549 had just taken off at 3:26 p.m. when it went down. The flight was carrying 150 passengers and five crew — two pilots and three flight attendants — and was heading to Charlotte, N.C.
The plane was submerged in the icy waters up to the windows but remained completely intact. Rescue crews opened the door and pulled passengers in yellow life vests from the plane. Several boats — including commuter ferries — surrounded the plane.
Many of the passengers were able to step off the plane and directly onto a rescue boat or wait for rescue on the wings, Bloomberg said.
Passenger Fred Beretta said everyone on board was helping each other get out alive.
"I think everyone was just stunned," Beretta told FOX News on The O'Reilly Factor.
Beretta, who was sitting on the left side of the aircraft, said he heard the engine sputter and then go quiet.
"There was no panic on the plane," Beretta said. "The pilot made a gradual left turn and (we) were waiting and knew [the pilot] would say something. It seemed like a long time [till he spoke] but it probably wasn't. The plane was quiet except for a couple of emotional outbursts, but nothing major. The only words I recall [the pilot saying] were, 'Prepare for impact.'"
"I looked out the window and thought, there is a good chance we are going to die. I thought about my family and started praying."
Beretta described a calm scene as passengers told those near emergency exits to open them. Those on board safely exited to the wings.
A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board was arriving Thursday night in New York City, Bloomberg said, adding that the plane was still floating and tied up at a lower Manhattan dock.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security said terrorism wasn't suspected.
"There is no information at this time to indicate that this is a security-related incident," Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner said. "We continue to closely monitor the situation which at present is focused on search and rescue."
Witnesses said the plane's pilot appeared to guide the plane down.
"I see a commercial airliner coming down, looking like it's landing right in the water," said Bob Read, who saw it from his office at the TV news magazine "Inside Edition." "This looked like a controlled descent."
"I saw what appeared to be a tail fin of a plane sticking out of the water," Erica Schietinger, whose office windows at Chelsea Piers look out over the Hudson, said shortly after the crash. "All the boats have sort of circled the area."
Those who believe they may have family members on board flight 1549 can call US Airways at 1-800-679-8215 within the United States.
FOXNews.com's Michelle Maskaly, Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.