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His name is Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III. He is a responsible adult, accountable professional, graduate of the Air Force Academy and former F4 Phantom pilot.
He’s also a husband, safety instructor and senior instructor-pilot for U. S. Airways. On January 15th, 2009 Sullenberger landed his Airbus 320 safely — as he had done for years. It wasn’t his most comfortable landing, his passengers were reported to have said after leaving the aircraft, but even so, neither his passengers nor crew complained. For after suffering double engine failure, on an aircraft equipped with only two engines, Sullenberger successfully carried out an emergency ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River offshore midtown Manhattan.
Listen To Captain Sullenberger
Call Sign: Cactus 1549
In Real Time — Playing Time = 18:51
La Guardia Departure Control
January 15th, 2009 | 3:21 pm
Realtime air-traffic control communications have long pauses interspersed with precise and clear exchanges of information using aviation-style phrasing and jargon.
There is more to this story than excellent airmanship, rescue and survival, for the story of Chesley Sullenberger’s day at the office was largely routine. Every day in Sullenberger’s line of work requires preparation, familiarity with aircraft and systems, review of loading and fueling, airframe inspection, and intimate understanding of time and space.
It was a cold day in New York — not at all unusual for mid January. If there was anything unusual about what was ordinarily a routine trip to Charlotte, it was Sullenberger’s co-pilot that day Jeffrey B. Skiles. Although an experienced airman at age 49, Skiles was making his first flight on an Airbus A320-214 since earning a type-rating — FAA certification of proficiency in A320 class equipment.
Cactus 1549 was cleared for takeoff on runway 4. Airport runways are numbered in accordance with the direction of takeoff. The chosen number is computed by its compass heading divided by ten. First Officer Skiles was in the left ( command ) seat. To his right, Captain Sullenberger assisted in check list confirmations and radio communications. At 3:25 pm, Cactus 1549 began its takeoff roll.
At 3:25 +51 seconds Captain Sullenberger contacted Tracon L116 ( LaGuardia Departure Control ) — the FAA position responsible for outbound traffic management.
“Cactus fifteen forty-nine seven hundred climbing five thousand,” which established that Sullenberger’s A320 was already seven hundred feet in altitude while confirming that the crew understood their current state of clearance was no higher than five thousand feet.
LaGuardia departure controller responded, “Maintain one five thousand cactus fifteen forty nine.” Nobody was rushed. Everything was routine, Sullenberger may have sensed, now that his climb restriction had been lifted from five to fifteen thousand feet.
At 3:27 + 32 seconds, Chesley Sullenberger’s ordinary day at the office was about to turn extraordinary when First Officer Skiles first noticed birds ahead. By the time the first birds struck the aircraft, leaving blood and entrails on the cockpit windscreen, departure control directed a turn to the left. “Cactus fifteen forty nine turn left heading two seven zero.” There was no immediate acknowledgment, but only four seconds later Sullenberger told the departure controller, “Ah . . . this is cactus fifty thirty-nine . . . hit birds lost thrust in both engines we’re turning back towards LaGuardia.”
Airmen, especially those who fly commercially, and emphatically those who fly the line, are not only creatures of training but responsible adults. They are accountable for all that they do including the lives of those who ride in the back trusting in their judgment and experience.
Airline pilots undergo constant training, take a check ride to demonstrate their proficiency every six months, and often find a training or flight safety officer up front to watch them in action. Everything is logged, every detail noted, every short coming identified and appropriate re-training scheduled. Nobody flies up front on a scheduled U. S. Airline who isn’t qualified. Some, men like Sullenberger and Skiles, bring long experience to every flight.
With only two words, Captain Sullenberger took control of his aircraft. “My aircraft,” he said, reversing their roles. At only 3300 feet altitude and zero engine thrust, Chesley Sullenberger began to make decisions he had prepared for since he began flying. Even as First Officer Sikes began the emergency landing check-list, Sullenberger filtered everything he saw, felt and heard against the most fundamental skills of airmanship. Fly the airplane, choose your landing spot, maintain airspeed.
Heroes fly tall buildings in a single bound, while airmen make good decisions from a poor set of choices. After considering LaGuardia and Teterboro airports only to discard both for being too far away, Captain Sullenberger made the one decision he had trained for all his life. With only 2500 feet of altitude to work with, he chose to ditch his multi-million dollar aircraft in the cold waters of the Hudson river.
Of all the possible choices, ditching in the Hudson was the safest — if his pilotage skills were as good as his decision making. By the time his A320 passed overhead the George Washington bridge, he chose his landing spot — his aircraft lined up correctly and fully under control. Ditching in the cold waters had many risks. If not done properly most large aircraft break up on contact, but if done exactly by the book ditching is far better than landing short of a runway or hitting objects or buildings.
At 3:32 pm Cactus fifteen-forty-nine was in the water — a rather unroutine landing made possible by decades of training and skilled airmanship. Sullenberger remained in command while his passengers departed onto the wings for rescue. Although the A320 continued to take on water, he personally made two passes through the cabin to make certain no one had been left behind. When he was certain that he was the last to leave his stricken ship, Sullenberger retrieved his aircraft’s log book, tucked it under his arm and stepped outside.
Captain Sullenberger had done his job and he had done it well. For men like Sullenberger, being a responsible adult is not a heroic thing. Nor, Captain Sullenberger reminded those in the media who sought, for their own benefit, to make of him a national celebrity, that he did not see himself as a hero. He was part of a team that did its job well that day — a team that included the men and women who manned New York Tracon.
His fellow airmen, around the world, salute Sullenberger and his team. They did their job well. Being responsible is no accident in aviation.
To assist those who read Newsroom Magazine in a language other than English, here’s the official FAA Transcript.
New York TRACON LaGuardia Departure L116
Voice Identification Key
Northwest Airlines NWA337
Cessna N376G N376G
LaGuardia ATCT LGA
Eagle Flight 4718 EGF4718
New York TRACON NOBBI position L106
Boeing N37NY N37NY
Gulfstream N780E N780E
Jet Link 2762 BTA2762
Lear Jet N4415W N4415W
TIME KEY NATURE OF COMMUNICATION - 2020 2020:57 L116 biscayne six ninety nine contact departure one two zero point eight five 2021:01 BSK699 twenty eighty five for biscayne six six nine 2021:02 L116 good day 2021:41 NWA337 northwest three thirty seven a thousand for five thousand 2021:44 L116 northwest three thirty seven new york departure radar contact climb and maintain one five thousand 2021:47 NWA337 one five thousand northwest three thirty seven 2022 2022:29 N3760 hello departure global three seven six golf four point four for seven thousand 2022:34 L116 november seven six golf new york departure climb and maintain one five thousand 2022:38 N376G right up to one five thousand cessna six golf 2022:56 L116 northwest three thirty seven turn left three six zero 2022:59 NWA337 left three six zero northwest three thirty seven 2023:44 L116 november seven six golf fly heading of two six zero contact departure one two zero eight five so long 2023:50 N376G two zero eight five and two sixty on the heading seven six golf good day 2024 2024:06 L116 northwest three thirty seven turn left heading three two zero 2024:08 NWA337 three two zero northwest three thirty seven 2024:58 LGA cactus fifteen forty nine 2025:12 L116 northwest three thirty seven contact departure one one eight point one seven 2025:16 NWA337 eighteen one seven northwest three thirty seven 2025:51 AWE1549 cactus fifteen forty nine seven hundred climbing five thousand 2026:00 L116 cactus fifteen forty nine new york departure radar contact climb and maintain one five thousand 2026:04 AWE1549 maintain one five thousand cactus fifteen forty nine 2026:57 UNKN seventy (unintelligible) 2026:59 L116 everyday 2027:03 BTA2750 new york jetlink twenty seven sixty is five thousand turning right to one five zero 2027:07 L116 jetlink twenty seven sixty climb maintain one zero thousand 2027:11 BTA2760 one zero thousand jetlink twenty seven sixty 2027:32 L116 cactus fifteen forty nine turn left heading two seven zero 2027:36 AWE1549 ah this is uh cactus fifteen thirty nine hit birds we lost thrust in both engines we’re turning back towards laguardia 2027:42 L116 okay yea you need to return to laguardia turn left heading of uh two two zero 2027:46 AWE1549 two two zero 2027:49 L116 tower stop your departures we got an emergency returning 2027:53 LGA who is it 2027:54 L116 it’s fifteen twenty nine he ah bird strike he lost all engines he lost the thrust in the engines he is returning immediately 2027:59 LGA cactus fifteen twenty nine which engines 2028:01 L116 he lost thrust in both engines he said 2028:03 LGA got it 2028:05 L116 cactus fifteen twenty nine if we can get it to you do you want to try to land runway one three 2028:11 AWE1549 we’re unable we may end up in the hudson 2028:17 L116 jetlink twenty seven sixty turn left zero seven zero 2028:19 BTA2760 left turn zero seven zero jetlink twenty seven sixty 2028:31 L116 alright cactus fifteen forty nine it’s going to be left traffic to runway three one 2028:34 AWE1549 unable 2028:36 L116 okay what do you need to land 2028:46 L116 cactus fifteen forty nine runway four is available if you want to make left traffic to runway four 2028:50 AWE1549 i am not sure if we can make any runway oh what’s over to our right anything in new jersey maybe teterboro 2028:55 L116 okay yea off to your right side is teterboro airport 2029 2029:02 L116 do you want to try and go to teterboro 2029:03 AWE1549 yes 2029:05 L116 teterboro uh empire actually laguardia departure got an emergency inbound 2029:10 TEB okay go ahead 2029:11 L116 cactus fifteen twenty nine over the george Washington bridge wants to go to the airport right now 2029:14 TEB he wants to go to our airport check does he need any assistance 2029:17 L116 ah yes he ah he was a bird strike can i get him in for runway one 2029:19 TEB runway one that’s good 2029:21 L116 cactus fifteen twenty nine turn right two eight zero you can land runway one at teterboro 2029:25 AWE1549 we can’t do it 2029:26 L116 okay which runway would you like at teterboro 2029:28 AWE1549 we’re gonna be in the hudson 2029:33 L116 i’m sorry say again cactus 2029:41 L116 jetlink twenty seven sixty contact new york one two six point eight 2029:45 BTA2760 twenty six eight jetlink twenty seven sixty 2029:51 L116 cactus ah cactus fifteen forty nine radar contact is lost you also got newark airport off your two o’clock and about seven miles 2030:06 L116 eagle flight forty seven eighteen turn left heading two one 2030:09 EGF4718 two one zero un forty seven eighteen i don’t know i think he said he was going in the hudson 2030:14 L116 cactus fifteen twenty nine uh you still on 2030:22 Ll16 cactus fifteen twenty nine if you can ah you got ah runway two nine available at newark off your two o’clock and seven miles 2030:32 L116 eagle flight forty seven eighteen climb maintain one two thousand 2030:34 EGF4718 okay one two thousand and ah leaving five and two eighty heading 2030:41 L116 and eagle flight forty seven eighteen i’m sorry i missed that say again 2030:45 EGF4718 and uh we’re up to twelve thousand uh two eighty on the heading 2030:48 L116 okay thank you eagle flight forty seven eighteen turn left two two zero 2030:51 EGF4718 two two zero forty seven eighteen 2031 2031:30 UNKN was that cactus up by the tappan zee 2031:32 L116 uh yeah it was a cactus he was just north of the ah george washington bridge when they had the bird strike 2032 2032:03 L116 eagle flight forty seven eighteen contact departure one two four point seven five 2032:08 EGF4718 uh twenty four seventy five forty seven eighteen 2032:37 L106 hey patty 2032:38 L116 yeah 2032:39 L106 seven n y i’ll just put him on a two seventy heading and leave him at six 2032:42 L116 whatever you want man 2032:43 L106 and eighty echo i’ll put on a one eighty for wake 2032:45 L116 that’s good 2033 2033:23 N37NY good afternoon new york boeing three seven november yankee out of six for seven coming to a heading of two fifty 2033:27 L116 november seven november yankee climb and maintain one five thousand 2033:31 N37NY one five thousand three seven november yankee 2033:38 L116 airight airight departure we’re stopped on departure runway four three sixties runway 2033:44 L116 okay 2033:45 L116 you know about the cactus 2033:46 L116 right 2033:47 L116 uh i guess it was a double bird strike and he lost all thrust so 2033:50 N780E new york gulf stream seven eighty echo level seven thousand and right turn to uh one nine zero 2033:52 L116 (unintelligible) what you want to do as far as departures 2033:55 L116 okay i’ll figure it out 2033:56 L116 two fifty one five eight zero echo the altimeter three zero two four 2034:00 N780E two four 2034:01 L116 you’re not talking to jetlink yet they’re gone all
frequencies are normal
2034:04 L116 just those two okay 2034:21 UNKN okay thanks 2034:27 BTA2762 uh new york jetlink twenty seven sixty two we’re with you five thousand uh zero nine zero 2034:31 L116 jetlink twenty seven sixty two new york good afternoon altimeter three zero two four climb and maintain one zero thousand 2034:38 BTA2762 okay one zero ten thousand and i believe it’s a three twenty heading 2034:43 L116 alright the altimeter is three zero two four continue on the ninety heading 2034:47 BTA2762 it’s a ninety heading maintaining uh climb maintain ten thousand 2034:56 L116 boeing seven november yankee fly a heading of one nine zero and if not already doing so climb and maintain one five thousand 2035:03 N37NY heading one ninety and we are going up to fifteen three seven november yankee 2035:13 L116 gulfstream seven eight zero echo new york you on 2035:16 N780E yes sir we checked in at seven thousand and we’re heading one nine zero /td> 2035:19 L116 gulfsteaxn seven eight zero echo altimeter three zero two four fly
heading two two zero climb and maintain one two thousand
2035:31 L116 gulfsteam seven eight zero echo fly heading two two zero climb and maintain one two thousand altimeter three zero two four 2035:39 N780E okay two (unintelligible) heading up to twelve thousand eighty echo 2036 2036:12 L116 boeing seven november yankee turn right heading two seven zero and contact departure on one two zero point eight five 2036:20 N37NY twenty eighty five two seven uh two seventy on the heading for seven november yankee 2036:32 N37NY they find that a three twenty 2036:36 L116 uh i’m not sure yet 2036:39 L116 jetlink twenty seven sixty two fly heading zero seven zero contact departure on one two six point eight 2036:47 BTA2762 okay zero seven zero and uh one two six point eight twenty seven sixty two 2037 2038 2038:09 L116 gulfstream seven eight zero echo contact departure on one two four point seven five so long 2038:14 N780E twenty four seventy five eighty echo so long 2039 2039:25 N4415W (unintelligible) heading two six zero 2039:31 L116 lear four four one five whiskey new york good afternoon altimeter three zero two four fly a heading of two five zero climb maintain one one thousand 2039:41 N4415W two four heading (unintelligible) uh say again on the altitude 2039:44 L116 one one eleven thousand 2039:46 N4415W up to one one eleven thousand one five whiskey 2040 End of Transcript
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