Heroic Crew of US Airways Flight 1549 'On the Record,' Part 1

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," February 11, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Now you finally the US Air Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his brave crew. Imagine being a passenger on U.S. Air Flight 1549. Minutes after takeoff from New York's La Guardia airport, the plane hits birds. Both engines go down. And unknown to the passengers, the captain is relaying an ominous message to the tower.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 1529 (SIC), turn right 280. You can land runway (INAUDIBLE) at Teterboro.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Which runway would you like at Teterboro?

SULLENBERGER: We're going to be in the Hudson.


VAN SUSTEREN: Back inside the cabin, the passengers hear what no passenger ever wants to hear, "Brace for impact." Yes, that day was a stunner. Now, it started out normal, but it turned into a day that the U.S. Air crew and their passengers and we would never forget.


VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see all five of you. Glad you could join us.

SULLENBERGER: It's good to be here.

VAN SUSTEREN: I want to go back to January 15. I take it about noon that day that you expected to have a different day than you ultimately had, right?

SULLENBERGER: It was the last day of a four-day trip, and in fact this was our last flight schedule to fly together, and we were all looking forward to going home.

VAN SUSTEREN: So I take it that you were going to get to North Carolina, get to Charlotte, and you were going to head west?



JEFFREY SKILES, US AIR CO-PILOT: Same thing-I was going to go up to Chicago.

SHEILA DAIL, US AIR FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Charlotte, hop in my car and drive to Ashville.

DOREEN WELSH, US AIR FLIGHT ATTENDANT: And I live Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. So I was trying to get a plane to Pittsburgh.


VAN SUSTEREN: So those were the plans. It did not work out that way.

SULLENBERGER: No, the world changed.

VAN SUSTEREN: It changed immensely for all of us, as well.

So you show up, and what time did 1549 takeoff?

SULLENBERGER: I've forgotten. It was early afternoon. We were probably running about 30 minutes late due to a deicing delay that morning in Pittsburgh and a little bit of an air traffic control delay going into New York just due to heavy traffic.

VAN SUSTEREN: And those of us flying in and out of LaGuardia, we expect to be late for whatever reason.

SULLENBERGER: We were actually doing pretty well, and our company had given us a great quick turnaround from the time we arrived on the previous flight until we departed on this one was only about 35 or 40 minutes.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, so it takes off, and how long were you in the air before you had your first problem?

SULLENBERGER: Minutes--not long at all.


SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS HOST: Flashing right now from the Reuter's News Agency, a plane is down in the Hudson River off New York City.


VAN SUSTEREN: It hit one engine first, or both engines, the birds?

SULLENBERGER: The impact--the birds were all of the airplane simultaneously. And we got pelted by many heavy birds.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who was at the controls at the time?

SKILES: I was at the time. I took off from LaGuardia. It was just starting to fly.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what do you do, just exchange? One goes one time, and then you alternate?


VAN SUSTEREN: So what do you feel when birds hit the engine?

SULLENBERGER: It was more you heard it. You heard the impacts, many thumps of the birds hitting the airplane.

VAN SUSTEREN: You were in the back. Did you hear anything?

WELSH: Not so much. Well, it was more of a feeling for me. I felt like we hit something, like went into a wall, like we were on the normal takeoff, and then stopped.

VAN SUSTEREN: So it didn't feel like turbulence?

WELSH: Nothing like turbulence.

VAN SUSTEREN: It felt like something different? Have you guys ever felt that before? You never felt it before? Did it feel like you put on the brakes, was it that kind of feeling, like all of sudden you stop for a second?

WELSH: Kind of.

VAN SUSTEREN: Captain, did the engines stop at that point, was there still some rotation? We're they still working for bit?

CAPTAIN CHESLEY SULLENBERGER, US AIRWAY PILOT: A few seconds the initial impact with the birds, I immediately felt heavy engine vibration, which indicated that the birds had severely damaged both engines.

I immediately heard noises that were not normal from the engine, indicating damage. And I smelled what I described at the time as the smell of birds going through the engines and being inducted into the cabin air.

It was obvious to me immediately that there was a very serious situation, and it was just a matter of seconds until we experienced some nearly complete, symmetrical, sudden thrust lost on both engines.

VAN SUSTEREN: Could you smell that smell in the back of the plane, or not?

SHEILA DAIL, US AIR FLIGHT ATTENDANT: I smelled it, but I smelled more of a metallic smell. Of course, I would not have described it as birds, because I have never had that experience.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you ever had birds before hit an engine?

JEFFREY SKILES, US AIR CO-PILOT: I do not believe ever hitting an engine. On occasion you do hit them with an airplane, but normally they are sea gulls, and they just clean the blood off of the nose, and you continue on your way.

VAN SUSTEREN: Can you fly in and airbus with one engine?

SULLENBERGER: Oh, yes. Every take off for every airliner is planned that if you can lose an engine at the most critical point, you can still climb safely away.

VAN SUSTEREN: So if this had only been one engine to get hit, you would have been a different story?

SULLENBERGER: We would have returned to land at LaGuardia.

VAN SUSTEREN: No problem?


VAN SUSTEREN: And you've done that all the time with one engine?

SULLENBERGER: Well, I have never actually experienced an engine failure in flight. Of course, we have trained for it in a simulator many times over the years, but this was the first time I had ever experienced an engine failure in my entire career.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you knew you had a catastrophic problem on your hands, but you were at the helm. So what happened?

SULLENBERGER: I decided a couple of things, quickly, that since Jeff had been a captain before, but on a different airplane that had recently been trained on the airbus, he was probably as familiar or more than I was about the emergency procedures, and he would know exactly which page to go to on the checklist, because he had just been through training on the airbus.

It had been almost a year since I had had my annual recurrent trading.

I also knew that because I had more experience on the airbus, it was probably better for me to fly. And since I had out of my side window a view of all the important landmarks, it was going to be up to me to decide where we would go.

VAN SUSTEREN: As you explain that, though, it probably took about 20 seconds to explain. You had to make that decision like that, right?


VAN SUSTEREN: You guys did not have a lot of time to discuss it.

SULLENBERGER: It probably took about seven or eight times longer than it took to do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I take it that because you were the captain, you do not debate this as a plan. You just take the orders at that point.

SULLENBERGER: It was an instinctive move based upon my experience and my initial read of the situation.

VAN SUSTEREN: So the plane at this point is gliding. It has its forward thrust, but that is about it.

SULLENBERGER: Yes. So we were essentially relying on gravity to provide the forward motion of the airplane as we descended.


VAN SUSTEREN: Up next, more with Captain Sully and his crew. Captain Sully takes you moment by moment to the dangerous water landing.

Plus, a flight attendant tell you about one particular passenger who announced she was afraid to fly even before they taxied to the runway at New York's LaGuardia airport. She ended up getting quite a flight.



VAN SUSTEREN: We continue with Captain Sully and the crew of U.S. Air flight 1549.

Minutes after taking off from LaGuardia, Captain Sully and his crew were in trouble, big trouble. They hit birds. Both engines stopped. You need engines, of course, to stay in the air, and the engines would not restart. So what did they do? Opted for a landing in the Hudson River.


VAN SUSTEREN: The three of you knew that there was no power, right? You could tell there was no power?

SHEILA DAIL, US AIRWAYS FLIGHT ATTENDANT: It was very quiet, and I knew something was wrong. But I just was hoping that there was some power, because we were not going down. We were still -- and I thought maybe they had cut back the engines for some reason, and we were just kind of gliding back to the airport. So that's what I assumed.

VAN SUSTEREN: So, captain, when we listen to you on the recordings at the towers, and, frankly, I have listened to them and number of times because I find them fascinating, is you're so calm and cool.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, you need to return to LaGuardia. Turn left to a heading of two, two, zero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, two, zero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flight 1529, he burnt strike, he lost all thrust in the engines.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He lost thrust in both engines, he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flight 1529, I could not get for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're unable. We will end up in the Hudson.


SULLENBERGER: We were definitely on high alert, but we were talking to air traffic control in a very businesslike fashion. We were energized, but we knew what we had to do, and we did not have a lot of time in which to do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you make an announcement? Because frequently they'll say "Ladies and gentlemen," and make some announcement to the passengers, or were you way too busy for that?

SULLENBERGER: At that point, we were way too busy for that. That had to come later. It was a matter of priorities.

First, I had to maintain control of the aircraft. I had to decide what our flight path was going to be, and then we had to work together to try to solve this problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you know how long it was between the time you lost power and you actually did the water landing? How long a period was that? Do you have any idea?

SULLENBERGER: If I had to take a guess for the data I've seen, it was a matter of minutes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Like two or three?

SULLENBERGER: I think in that range.

VAN SUSTEREN: And the passengers were all quite and pretty much in the plane, or did some not seem to notice that there was an issue going on?

DOREEN WELSH, US AIRWAYS FLIGHT ATTENDANT: I did get out of my seat. I talked to the last five rose and tried to calm them down, saying that we will probably just go back to the airport, and we'll be fine.

I had a fearful flyer in the back. She told me during boarding that she was petrified to fly. So I went up to make sure she was OK, and everything looked OK at the time. So I just returned back to my seat when Sully said "Brace for impact."

VAN SUSTEREN: So are you guys talking at all to each other in the cabin, or do you know how to communicate just by virtue of what you're doing, you're sending signals to each other?

SULLENBERGER: Are you talking about Jeff and I?


SULLENBERGER: We worked very well together. What I was hoping would happen did, in fact, happen. I knew it was such an extremely time- critical problem that I didn't think we had a lot of time to talk about it in a conversational way.

So what I was relying upon and what happened was Jeff had a similar understanding of the situation that I did from the very beginning. He was seeing and hearing and feeling the same things I was feeling.

I knew he was hearing what I was saying to air-traffic control vicariously understanding my thought process as I was considering and then rejecting as unrealistic certain alternatives-LaGuardia, and then Teterboro.

And it was obvious to us after a few second that there was really only one choice available to us that was possible, and that was to land in the river.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of the landing on water, I take it that it is not like landing on the runway. How are you supposed to bring that plane down?

SULLENBERGER: Well, it's similar to landing on a runway. The same problems exist, except the wheels are not down, of course, and the surface on the water on the bottom of the airplane was going to be terribly unforgiving.

But there certain things that I knew I had to do. I had to touchdown with the wings exactly level, I needed to touch down a dissent that was survivable, and I needed to touch down with the nose slightly up, and I needed to touch down just above our minimum flying speed, but certainly not below it.

And I had to do all of these things simultaneously.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's start. The wings had to be level so, what? So you do not flip the plane? Is that the point of having the wing s level?


VAN SUSTEREN: And how do you do that? Great skill, right?

SULLENBERGER: I pulled exactly straight back on the control stick as I was raising the nose to decrease our rate of descent to touch the water.

VAN SUSTEREN: People think water is soft, but it is not. It is not forgiving. It will hit you hard.

SULLENBERGER: And if you hit the water with an airplane at that speed, it feels hard.

VAN SUSTEREN: How fast did you hit it, do you think?

SULLENBERGER: I don't want to speculate. I have not seen the data. But I am told we achieved the parameters that we were trying to achieve.

VAN SUSTEREN: What are the parameters for a runway?

SULLENBERGER: Typically in the 150, 160 miles per hour range.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the water the same or about the same?

SULLENBERGER: We were probably at or slightly below the typical landing speed. I was trying to get as slow as I could to minimize the forces on the airplane and on us.

VAN SUSTEREN: What were you doing as he was doing this?

JEFFREY SKILES, US AIR CO-PILOT: At that point I had given up trying to start the engines, obviously, and I was sort of waiting for the impact, because then we had to evacuate the aircraft.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you were trying to start these engines while he was dealing with landing this plane, up until that point?

SKILES: Up until that point, yes, that was my primary role. We have an order of procedures that we have to do try to hopefully restart the engines in situations like this, but they were too damaged by the geese to do so.

VAN SUSTEREN: So if you're hitting the backend of the plane you're not landing on wheel, I imagine, you got a good beating back there. That is like dropping a tail on a runway, practically, right?

DOREEN WELSH, US AIR FLIGHT ATTENDANT: There are two separate situations. I mean, the mass and everything fell, and things flew all over the place, and everything in the back. It was a different story than in the front.

VAN SUSTEREN: What was the plane like in the front?

DONNA DENT, US AIR FLIGHT ATTENDANT: It was hard landing, but not that bad. It was a pretty hard landing.

VAN SUSTEREN: I assume it was worse than a runway.

DENT: Probably worse that a runway, but not that bad, really.


VAN SUSTEREN: We would like to thank the Helmsley Park Lane hotel for letting us do the interview at their hotel.

Tomorrow night you will hear the rest of our interview with Captain Sully and the crew, the inside story on what exactly what happened inside the U.S. Air jet as it began to sink into the Hudson River.

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