Tales of Heroism and Survival in 'Miracle on the Hudson'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," January 15, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: This is a "FOX News Alert." About four minutes after take-off, and then hell. But they got a miracle. The U.S. Air pilots doing what no one else thought could be done, flying with no engines and safely putting down a big commercial aircraft in the Hudson River.

It could have been so different. It could have been catastrophic. It could have hit Manhattan skyscrapers or the George Washington Bridge, and tonight we could be mourning more than 150 dead. But that's not what happened and so we are celebrating.

We are live at the scene in New York City, where just hours ago, U.S. Air flight 1549 safely landed in the frigid waters of the Hudson after apparently striking a flock of birds, an unbelievable story.

We went to the scene. A survivor told us what happened.


VAN SUSTEREN: Where were you in the plane, sir?


VAN SUSTEREN: And tell me, how much notice did you have that it was going down?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had about -- well...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We probably got two minutes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, the pilot told us to brace for impact. And the pilot did one hell of a job of making sure everyone...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Vast majority of people got out.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how -- and how...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... The exit? Were people orderly...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... About as orderly as can be, so -- man, God bless (INAUDIBLE)

VAN SUSTEREN: How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy to be alive. I'm perfect!


VAN SUSTEREN: Michael Bloomberg spoke after the crash and told us about a true hero, the pilot of the jet.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: The pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure that everybody got out. I had a long conversation with the pilot. He walked the plane twice after everybody was off and tried to verify that there was nobody else on board and assures us there were not. I also talked to a passenger who said he was the last one up the aisle and that he made sure there was nobody behind him.


VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us live is Cosmo Messina, a deckhand with New York Waterways. He helped rescue dozens of passengers from the plane. Nice to see you and congratulations. Great job!

COSMO MESSINA, RESCUER: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It was great. It was great. It was also dramatic because the scenes of those people cry and shake by the cold, it was very, very bad.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so what -- what did you do? You were out on your ferry?

MESSINA: I was working on the ferry. I was doing my regular run. And all of a sudden, my captain saying, Guys, man overboard. Man overboard. And I said, What the hell is man overboard now? Saw there's a plane in the water. So soon the boat turned around. We saw a plane land in the water with some people standing off on the wing. And we went towards the plane.

And in the meantime, we prepared all the lifevests. We prepared all the craddle (ph) and the hook (ph) going towards the plane. And other boats, they started to coming out, to coming out towards the plane. We started pull out a few people at a time.

The captain maneuver the boat the right way, and we started pull out people and everybody was safe. There was 24 people that we rescue. Everybody was happy -- Thank you very much, thank you, this and that. One guy was soaking wet, and I gave him my jacket because I felt bad. He was shaking, like, unbelievable. And we took them on the other side of Jersey. And there was a fire department with blankets and -- and that's about all.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, as we stand here now, it is so cold out here, but it is so much better than what those people -- so much better, isn't it.

MESSINA: Yes, it is. I was very proud and then -- and that's it. I can say nothing else. I was very, very happy.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where they standing on the wing, or where were they?

MESSINA: Some of the people, they're standing on the wing. Some of the people, they were sitting down on the wing. And some of -- some of the (INAUDIBLE) inside the raft. And my boat picks up -- pick up people from the back of the raft and from the side of the wing. Another boat in front picked up some people from the front and the other side of the wing. And we took those 24 people and safe.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's not exactly how you expected to spend your day, is it.

MESSINA: No, it was... (LAUGHTER)

MESSINA: It's good. It's good.

VAN SUSTEREN: And it was exciting. And congratulations to you.

MESSINA: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Good for you!

MESSINA: Thank you. Thank you very much.

VAN SUSTEREN: You must feel great.


VAN SUSTEREN: And those people must be (INAUDIBLE) ecstatic.

MESSINA: Exactly. I'm very proud. I'm very -- it's very nice.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congratulations. That really is terrific. You know, what a great thing to do. Thank you, sir.

MESSINA: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Gabriel Wilson, the emergency room director for Roosevelt Hospital, joins us by phone. Sir, were some of the people from this plane taken to your hospital?

DR. GABRIEL WILSON, ROOSEVELT HOSPITAL: Yes. Our hospital, Roosevelt at 59th Street and 10th Avenue, had 11 survivors from this incident. And at this point, 10 of them are discharged. Very, very lucky people.

VAN SUSTEREN: And in terms of the one who's still there, what -- why is that patient still there?

WILSON: There were some other associated injuries, and the patient doesn't want us to share any details. Unfortunately, I can't give you anything else.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so what -- how did the -- how did these patients present themselves at your hospital today, what condition?

WILSON: Well, you know, no one suffered from anything more than mild hyperthermia, you know, regarding their exposure. So they were basically just shivering. You know, had they had signs of moderate or severe hypothermia, then you would have had other physiologic changes like, you know, change in their mental status or potentially, you know, heart arrhythmias. But this didn't occur. They just had mild hypothermia.

VAN SUSTEREN: I bet you were surprised when they told you what happened, what got them to your hospital.

WILSON: More than surprised. I mean, staff -- when this first happened, our staff was, you know, by the television screens just thinking, you know -- we were just getting ready to mobilize. In a normal winter, we have one or two hypothermia patients that will come in, you know, at a time, but never, you know, more than two or three. So to take care of 10, 20, 30 patients with severe hypothermia requires a tremendous amount of medical effort. And we were mobilizing, you know, senior (ph) positions in the hospital, you know, preparing for this possibility.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of they're -- I mean, they're -- physically, they present themselves with hypothermia. What about their -- I mean, were any of them, you know, feeling the traumatic effect of this horrible experience?

WILSON: I'm sorry?

VAN SUSTEREN: Were they all just excited to be alive?

WILSON: No, I mean, clearly, you know, psychologically -- you know, people were conversant, but they were shaken. They understood that they were very lucky, but they also just looked worn down and just, you know, tired.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, Doc, this is a great story. I mean, I imagine this plane landing in this river behind us, and everyone is alive tonight and it's an exciting story, even for the people who, unfortunately, may have to spend a night or two in the hospital. But Doctor, thank you very much, sir.

WILSON: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, here's the timeline as we know it right now. 3:26 PM, U.S. Air flight 1549 takes off from La Guardia airport in Long Island, New York, bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. Thirty to forty-five seconds into the flight, climbing to about 1,500 feet, the pilot reports a double bird strike and asks controllers for permission to return. A controller instructed the pilot to turn back to La Guardia. But the pilot spots Teterboro airport in New Jersey and ask to land there. The controller says to make an emergency landing at Teterboro. And that's it. That's the final communication between the plane and the controllers.

About this time, passengers are hearing an explosion. Some saw an engine on fire. The pilot gives the passengers an ominous warning, Brace for impact, and then it happens. The plane lands in the frigid waters of the Hudson River. Eyewitnesses report the plane skims on the water as if touching down on land.

Immediately, everyone helps. Passengers on ferry boats arrive on the scene, followed by Coast Guard, New York police, firefighters, port authority officers. The plane is submerged up to its windows and passengers are exiting the plane into lifeboats. Passengers are also seen standing on the wing, and some are pulled from the water. The plane eventually sinks before being towed to Battery Park City and tied to a pier.

But that's not the big news. The big news is that all 150 passengers and five crew members exit the plane safely. And get this. According to New York mayor Bloomberg, the U.S. Air pilot walked the plane twice, making sure every one of his passengers was off that plane, before he got off himself.

How much communication happened between the pilot and air traffic control? Joining us by phone is Doug Church from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Good evening, sir. And sir, I know that you've had communication with these controllers. What is it they heard? What did they say?

DOUG CHURCH, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOC.: Well, good evening. Thanks for having me on. Yes, after takeoff from La Guardia around 3:24, the plane is transferred then to New York Troycon (ph) controllers, located out on Long Island and a radar facility in Westbury (ph). So it's a single controller at that point who's responsible for this aircraft and received the call from the cockpit that there had been, you know, a bird strike.

And at that point, things start to fall into place in terms of a procedure for trying to get him back to La Guardia. And then when that became not an option for the pilot, tried to give him a Plan B, which in this case was Teterboro. The controller involved here was a veteran controller, a very highly experienced, 12-year veteran. He had worked at a different part of the facility a few years ago, in the Newark sector area of airspace. So he was very familiar with Teterboro, with Newark, with New Jersey airspace and was trying to get him a good Plan B to try to get down on the ground.

And again, when that didn't -- when the pilot couldn't make that happen and ultimately chose, you know, what he did, you know, we were continuing to monitor the situation on radar and knew that the plane had come over, you know, the George Washington Bridge and was going to make an attempt to land in the water.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, Plan B isn't very attractive if you don't have any power. I mean, these pilots also had lost power, hadn't they, in both engines, at this point?

CHURCH: That is our understanding. I can't confirm that for certain. The NTSB will have to do that. But it does appear as though there was, you know, a multiple bird strike.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is this an ordinary route, that if you don't have a problem, that commercial aircraft are taking in and out of La Guardia, or was this pilot basically having to think really fast to avoid both Manhattan and those bridges?

CHURCH: The latter, definitely thinking very, very fast. It really cannot be overstated just how much experience counted in this case, a 30-year veteran pilot, you know, back on the ground, veteran controllers who - - again, when your first option is not available, you know, what is your next option? You got to know that right away. As a controller, you got to know it, and as a pilot, you're always, you know, thinking a step ahead of how you're going to get that plane on the ground safely.

And being able to go through that checklist mentally in the cockpit, on the ground, working together to try to come up with a solution that's going to work is really the essence of successful endings to these types of situations. And what a remarkable ending, as you've been telling your viewers.

VAN SUSTEREN: It is so remarkable, and I bet when we finally get to hear those tapes that we're also going to hear people speaking calmly and we're going to hear just how experienced they are.

CHURCH: That's absolutely right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Doug, thank you very much. Doug, thank you.

Up next, more of our breaking news coverage from the Hudson River, the site of today's U.S. Air -- Let's not call it a crash, let's call it a water landing. That's what it was, fortunately. That's what it turned out to be, a water landing. Now, a witness who actually watched the plane go into the water goes "On the Record." That and much more. We're back in two minutes.


VAN SUSTEREN: We're live at the Hudson River, and hours ago, a U.S. Air jet landed in the water right behind us here. Bob Read, senior producer from "Inside Edition," is live with us on the scene. Bob witnessed the -- Bob, what did you see?

BOB READ, WITNESSED PLANE CRASH: It was amazing. I looked up from my computer and I saw a commercial airliner basically on final approach but landing in the Hudson River. It was surreal.

VAN SUSTEREN: What did you think was going on? Because I take it, at first, you must have thought there was some mistake of some sort.

READ: Well, the first thing nowadays, you think terrorism. but that went away right away. It didn't seem right to be landing -- you know, that that would be a terroristic act.

But I thought, This plane is in trouble. I screamed to the producers who work with me, Get a camera. You know, this is a problem. Something's going on. And by the time we got to the other window, it was just feet from the water. It went behind a building, and I feared for the worst. I feared I was going to see wreckage come out from the other side of that building, but instead, it was the plane skimming along the water, just floating down the river.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you see anything, any smoke or anything, coming out of either engine?

READ: No, no smoke. No fire. No landing -- the landing gear was up. It looked like he was basically landing on a runway, but it happened to be the Hudson River.

VAN SUSTEREN: So it looked like a perfect landing.

READ: It was a perfect landing. The pilot was -- he did an incredible job, as we all know, saved the entire -- all the passengers. And then when the plane -- our camera crew went to a window and zoomed in with a long lens, and we saw people climbing out on the wings, dozens of people just standing there on the wings, waiting for the boats to come.

VAN SUSTEREN: I know. Everyone came rushing down here, expecting that it was going to be the worst tragedy and -- and it's terrible. I mean, a lot of people are hurt and there's a lot -- there is a lot of -- you know, there's a lot of sadness in it. But you know, we're all celebrating because it feels so good, all alive.

READ: It could have been and I feared that it was going to be a tragedy. But luckily, the pilot was incredible. Apparently, he's a very experienced pilot. And they train for bird strikes. We've done stories on bird strikes before. And he knew how to land this plane under the worst circumstances, with no engines.

And the flight crew, they kept their cool. They got all these passengers out. And some of them came off dry, from what I understand. And we'll have all the footage tomorrow. We have our crews down there. We'll have all the footage on "Inside Edition" tomorrow.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, we'll have to watch "Inside Edition" tomorrow night. We have all that footage and we probably (INAUDIBLE) he's an ex-Air Force pilot. We probably should say that (INAUDIBLE) All right. Bob, thank you.

Jennifer Mattina witnessed the rescue and took pictures. She is live with us on the scene. Come here, Jennifer. So what did you see?

JENNIFER MATTINA, WITNESSED RESCUE: Well, I was in my apartment, and I looked out the window and I saw a plane right in front of my apartment on 42nd and 12th.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you ever seen a plane there before?

MATTINA: No, never.


VAN SUSTEREN: So what did you think?

MATTINA: Obviously, a plane went down. I was on the phone with my sister in North Carolina, and she said, Grab a camera and start videotaping it, and I'll call FOX News, so -- I just couldn't believe it. I saw these water taxis come over, and then they spread apart. And you saw the people on the wings of the plane, and they were getting into inflatable rafts.

VAN SUSTEREN: It must (INAUDIBLE) Did you actually see the plane hit the water?

MATTINA: I did not see it hit the water, but when I looked out there, there was no crew, just the water taxis that came up. And there were three boats coming at the plane.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what's so interesting, that we understand is that you don't usually see commercial aircrafts making safe passings (ph) over here. This is not an area where you see a lot of commercial aircraft.

MATTINA: Not at all, just helicopters.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, when you think about how many people were saved, it really is extraordinary.

MATTINA: It's amazing. I mean, it was such a godsend. I was shaking when I was taking the pictures alone because I didn't know what to do. I mean, there was no police, there was no rescue, anything out there, just the water taxis.

VAN SUSTEREN: You saw people standing on the wing of the aircraft in the water.

MATTINA: I did. And the crew on the back.

VAN SUSTEREN: And then you see all the ferries pulling up and rescuing them.

MATTINA: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's an extraordinary scene.

MATTINA: It is. It is. And I was just so happy that everybody was saved and there was no tragedy.

VAN SUSTEREN: (INAUDIBLE) I mean, without any doubt, it's a horrible occurrence. These people are -- you know, it's a trauma for them, but since we've all been through so much worse, we all feel good tonight.

MATTINA: We sure do.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you very much for joining us.

MATTINA: Thank you.

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