A US Airways plane struck a flock of geese shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport and crashed in the Hudson River this afternoon, though all passengers were safely rescued, authorities said.
The 155 people on the plane quickly scrambled onto the wings and inflatable rafts on the side of the partially submerged plane, which crashed minutes after the 3:26 p.m. takeoff. Ferries from both the New York and New Jersey sides of the river rushed to their aid.
"Everybody got out safely," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg "It would appear the pilot did a masterful job. He walked plane twice after everyone got off and I spoke with a passenger who said pilot was last one up the aisle after everyone had gotten off."
One of the passengers on the plane, Jeff Kolodajy 31, Norwalk, Conn., described hearing "a loud boom" and then, he said, "I saw fire."
"The plane just dropped about 100 feet," said Kolodajy, who was ferried to Pier 81 in New York. "It was real scary." But, Kolodajy said, "when the plane landed, the boats were there in about three or four minutes to pick us up, and the water started to fill up rapidly."
The Fire Department said 78 people were injured but the extent of the injuries wasn't immediately known.
Less than a minute after taking off from LaGuardia Airport, the pilot reported he had suffered a "double bird strike," said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Union.
The controller sent the aircraft back toward LaGuardia, but the pilot saw an airport below him and asked what it was, Church said. It was nearby Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, and the pilot asked to land there, Church said.
The instruction to land at Teterboro was the last communication with the plane before it landed in the river, Church said.
The plane was submerged in the 41 degree waters near 47th Street in New York up to the windows, and rescue crews had opened the door and were pulling passengers in yellow life vests from the plane. Several boats surrounded the plane, which appeared to be slowly sinking.
"I saw what appeared to be a tail fin of a plane sticking out of the water," said Erica Schietinger, whose office windows at Chelsea Piers look out over the Hudson. "All the boats have sort of circled the area. ... I can't tell what's what at this point."
In Manhattan, rescue workers were slowly bringing survivors out of the NY Waterways ferry terminal at around 5 p.m. At least three, including a woman in her 40s bundled against the cold, were brought out on stretchers wearing oxygen masks and placed in waiting ambulances.
Dr. Gabriel Wilson, emergency director at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, said a husband and wife had been treated for hypothermia and were in good condition. A flight attendant being examined for a possible fracture was in stable condition. As he spoke, other patients were being brought in on gurneys wrapped in blankets.
"I was told they were in waist-deep water and they slid into the rafts," Wilson said, adding that it was unlikely any of the patients would be at the hospital long. "They're a little shaken up."
The NY Waterways ferry terminal at Port Imperial in Weehawken is closed until further notice, company officials said. Commuters who take the New Jersey-bound ferry will have to find another way home.
Christian Martin, who witnessed the crash from a New York office building, said the response by emergency personnel was swift after the plane hit the water.
"It came down very smoothly. If it had been an airport runway it looked just like that," Martin said. "It's drifted down the river. Touched down about 56th street. It's way further down now."
Ferry boats raced to help from both sides of the river, Martin said.
"In about four minutes, there was a ferry there and you could see people on the wings," Martin said. "I didn't exactly see people exiting because the ferry boat was in the way. There seemed to be plenty of time for people to get off the wings. Within 10 minutes there were three or four ferryboats, from the New Jersey and the New York side."
Kolodajy said the passengers around him on the plane seemed to be uninjured.
"Everyone's fine. There was a lady with her baby and she was trying to crawl over the seats. And I said, women and children first. She got off," said Kolodajy, who praised the effort by the pilot.
"I tell you what. It says a lot about people. He knew we were going down," Kolodajy said. "The engine blew out about three minutes, we circled around to the Hudson. Pilot said, look, we're going down. We looked at one another and said prayers."
Giulio Farnese, 59, and his coworker at New York Waterways, 39-year-old Natale Binetti, were at the ferry dock in Weehawken when they were alerted to the plane crash by two construction workers.
They immediately took off to rescue people in a boat. It took them roughly 10 minutes to reach the plane, where they rescued 14 people who were standing on a wing, many of them screaming or bleeding from the face.
"They were completely shocked," said Binetti, who lives in Hoboken. "They were crying, and they were soaking wet. They were scared."
When James Mohr, 21, opened the door of his apartment at around 3:45 p.m. in the Bronx, he heard a loud boom.
"It boomed more than once," Mohr said. "I saw fire spitting out of one of the engines. I want to say the right one, but I could be wrong."
The A320 is a widely used, medium-range passenger jet used around the world. More than 1,900 A320s are in service with 155 airlines.
The twin-engine jet, equipped with a "fly-by-wire" control system when it entered service in 1988. It typically can seat 150 passengers in a two-class cabin layout, and has a range of 3,000 nautical miles.
During its 20-year history there have been eight fatal Airbus crashes , the worst accident in 2007 when all 186 passengers and crew and 12 people on the ground died when a Tam Airlines jet ran off the runway at Sao Paulo- Congonhas Airport in Brazil.
Last year, a United Airbus A320 flying out of Newark Liberty International Airport experienced multiple avionics and electrical failures, including loss of all communications, shortly after taking off. The flight returned safety for a landing with no injuries to the 107 passengers and crew aboard the airplane and no damage to the jet.
A US Airways spokesman in a news conference shortly after 5 p.m. said it would be "premature to speculate about the causes of this accident."
The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a 20-member team to investigate the crash. The team will be arriving in New York tonight.
---------by The Star-Ledger Continuous News Desk Thursday January 15, 2009, 5:32 PM