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(photo credit: AP)
A US Airways pilot ditched his disabled jetliner into the frigid Hudson River in full view of New York City skyscrapers on Thursday after a collision with a flock of birds apparently knocked out both engines.
Officials said rescuers pulled all 155 people on board into boats as the plane sank.
One victim suffered two broken legs, a paramedic said. Paramedics treated at least 78 patients, most for minor injuries, fire officials said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an experienced pilot, said it appeared the pilot did "a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure everybody got out." And Gov. David Patterson pronounced it "a miracle on the Hudson."
Flight 1549 went down minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport for Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Airbus A320 put down in the Hudson River, which runs between New York and New Jersey, near 48th Street in midtown Manhattan. Hundreds watched the rescue from their office and apartment windows.
Some passengers stood on a wing of the plane, in water up to their knees, waiting for help. The air temperature was around 20 degrees (minus 6.7 degrees Celsius).
Police drivers had to rescue some of the passengers from underwater, Bloomberg said. Among those on board was one infant who appeared to be fine, the mayor said.
Helen Rodriguez, a paramedic who was among the first to arrive at the scene, said she saw one woman with two broken legs. Fire officials said others were evaluated for hypothermia, bruises and other minor injuries.
The pilot reported a "double bird strike" less than a minute after taking off, said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Union.
Dave Sanderson, who was flying home to Charlotte after a business trip, said the sound of an explosion was followed by passengers running up the aisle and people being shoved out of the way.
As the plane descended, passenger Vallie Collins tapped out a text message to her husband, Steve: "My plane is crashing." He was desperately trying to figure out whether she had been on the downed plane when the message arrived 30 minutes later.
Another passenger, Jeff Kolodjay, said people put their heads in their laps and prayed. He said the captain instructed them to "brace for impact because we're going down."
Witnesses said the plane's pilot appeared to guide the plane down. Bob Read, a television producer who saw the crash from his office window, said it appeared to be a "controlled descent."
Paramedics treated at least 78 patients, fire officials said. Coast Guard boats rescued 35 people who were immersed in the frigid water and ferried them to shore. Some of the rescued were shivering and wrapped in white blankets, their feet and legs soaked.
One commuter ferry, the Thomas Jefferson of the company NY Waterway, arrived within minutes of the crash, and some of its own riders grabbed life vests and lines of rope and tossed them to plane passengers in the water.
"They were cheering when we pulled up," ferry captain Vincent Lombardi. "We had to pull an elderly woman out of a raft in a sling. She was crying. ... People were panicking. They said, 'hurry up, hurry up."'
Two police scuba divers said they pulled another woman from a lifeboat "frightened out of her mind" and lethargic from hypothermia. Another woman fell off a rescue raft, and the divers said they swam over and put her on a Coast Guard boat.
US Airways CEO Doug Parker confirmed that 150 passengers, three flight attendants and two pilots were on board the jetliner.
An official speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still ongoing identified the pilot as Chesley B. Sullenberger III. A woman answered and hung up when the AP asked to speak with Sullenberger's family in Danville, California.
Sullenberger, 57, described himself in an online professional profile as a 29-year employee of US Airways. He started his own consulting business, Safety Reliability Methods Inc., two years ago.
The Federal Aviation Administration says there were about 65,000 bird strikes to civil aircraft in the United States from 1990 to 2005, or about one for every 10,000 flights.
"They literally just choke out the engine and it quits," said Joe Mazzone, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot. He said air traffic control towers routinely alert pilots if there are birds in the area.