Friday, January 16, 2009

Murk Hudson

More than in any city in the world in recent times, a low-flying passenger plane in New York conjures up unique and real images of horror.

So who could imagine that a plane crash here, could become one of the most extraordinary 'feel good' stories of recent times?

Planes are very regularly routed over the Hudson River, both into and out of La Guardia. Lucky passengers on one side of the plane are thus afforded stunning views of Manhattan.

However alert onlookers of flight 1549 would have sensed something was badly wrong given it was descending away from La Guardia.

Had the plane taken off little more than an hour later, it would have plunged into the water in darkness, with surely horrendous consequences.

Instead tens of thousands of occupants of the skyscrapers that line the west side of Midtown, would have seen the incident through the vivid air of a fine but bitterly cold New York afternoon.

The Captain is rightly being feted as a hero. And with a name like Chelsey B. Sullenberger III, you sense he was always meant to be such.

Whilst they may be trained for such an eventuality, what an extraordinary professional he must be in order to apply both technical expertise and calm assurance, to achieve such a joyful outcome? Charlton's better-paid footballers should hold their heads in collective shame.

I would previously switch off during that part of the pre-flight safety announcement that deals with water landings. It had always seemed to be a pointless way to comfort passengers that they might conceivably survive such an outcome, when there was virtually no evidence they could.

I would cynically claim that they may as well provide guidance on how to operate parachutes, in the event of a midair explosion. Not any longer.

Although seemingly not a direct factor in this incident, La Guardia airport is one of New York's necessary evils. Located just a couple of miles from Manhattan, its convenience as the city's main domestic airport, trumps its very obvious limitations in this regard.

Putting to oneside its painfully inadequate terminal facilities, its most obvious drawback to a nervous flyer like me is the shortness of its runways.

A take-off from, or landing to La Guardia feels different from most airports, with the exception notably of Midway Airport in Chicago, a similarly convenient but inadequate facility. By way of comparison, the runways at Heathrow or JFK are nearly twice as long.

There is simply no margin for pilot error. The plane's nose will lift just yards from the end of one of its 2,100 metre runways, whilst the occupants of any flight which slightly misjudges its landing, are rewarded with a whiplash-inducing slam on the brakes.

The airport is also ridiculously busy, its tight schedules prone to grinding delays thanks to the volatility of New York's weather.

Regular flyers will recognise the strange gate announcement that air traffic control at La Guardia are preventing planes bound for it from taking off, even though you might be thousands of miles away from the Big Apple.

Ironic then that an averted disaster was neither a function of short runways, terrorism or congested air traffic but apparent fowl play, in the shape of a flock of geese.

One of the problems with being a worrier like me is keeping track of what you should be worrying about. Luckily Captain Sullenberger just got on with his job.


At 4:19 AM, Blogger Suze said...

What a wonderful name, you're right...destined for fame.

They interviewed a retired BA pilot here, his train for emergency landings, but to do such a perfect one on water is exceptional. Normally it's head first.

Landing through mountains and a lightening storm in Germany was probably my favourite landing. Though landing/take off over the sea at Boston, and through the mountains at San Francisco take some beating too.

At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember getting the Boston shuttle from La Guardia in '93 just ahead of a big snow storm that was moving up the coast; the next plane an hour later wasn't so lucky; ice on the wings prevented take off and it ended up nose first in the river at the end of the runway. I don't think any/many were hurt,but it's a fine line between going for it and aborting take off on that runway!


At 12:48 PM, Blogger marco said...

The first time I landed at Boston I was very close to adopting the brace position. I had no idea that the runway stuck out into the water. I looked left and saw water and did the same to the right. Water in every direction. I was convinced that we were going to end up in the drink.
It was a perfect landing but one of the most stressful I've ever experienced.
My NY based friend who works at Randomhouse was able to watch the events yesterday from her office window. She remarked how lucky the passengers were to end up only a short distance from the ferry terminal so that boats could get to them almost instantly.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

Marco, I was wondering whether the Captain had even engineered the landing to be as close as possible to the ferry boats, knowing his passengers would need help rapidly in the freezing water. If so, yet more kudos to him. Another half a mile upstream and it'd have taken much longer to get to the plane.

ps - I've also experienced the stomach-churning landing at Boston - the last time I did it, I looked around the plane and figured lots of fellow passengers must be regular flyers here, and they seemed pretty relaxed so that helped!

At 2:00 AM, Blogger Chicago Addick said...

A feel good and amazing story indeed and a true hero. He landed the plane like a helicopter.

I can only imagine what office workers were thinking looking out of their high windows at a plane flying down the Hudson that low.

At 6:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe the hudson river fiasco was 'another' major publicity stunt.Tweeter for one received grand publicity and whose friend is the pilot I wonder(and the passengers...or movie extras?)Not so clever graphics tampering with footage of the landing.Printemps Paris,dynamite sticks found???I dont think so.Another publicity stunt. Who has interests in Printemp I wonder

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reply to anonymous 6.50 I agree.they probably make their own news has become a venue to promote a cause or illegal advertising opportunities. power riches and influence can sometimes breed corruption and dictatorship.


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