A federal safety panel on Tuesday issued more than two dozen safety recommendations related to the airliner that ditched into the Hudson River after colliding with geese last year. Those include making aircraft engines more bird-resistant, equipping every passenger-carrying plane with life vests and requiring enough life rafts for all passengers and that they be...
A federal safety panel on Tuesday issued more than two dozen safety recommendations related to the airliner that ditched into the Hudson River after colliding with geese last year. Those include making aircraft engines more bird-resistant, equipping every passenger-carrying plane with life vests and requiring enough life rafts for all passengers and that they be accessible
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was just due to chance that US Airways Flight 1549 had such equipment on board on Jan. 15, 2009, when the Airbus A320 collided with a flock of Canada geese. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger made a split-second decision to glide the airliner with 155 people aboard into the river rather than risk crashing in a densely populated area by trying to reach an airport.
The plane had just taken off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport and was bound for Charlotte, N.C. It was not required under Federal Aviation Administration regulations to have equipment for water landings on board. Only planes flying more than 50 miles from shore must have such equipment, the board said.
When the plane hit the water, there was a rupture in the fuselage near the tail and water gushed in. Everyone on board survived, but it was a close call. Most passengers and crew wound up standing on the plane’s wings as it drifted downriver, gradually sinking along the way. Sixty-four passengers were able to wait for rescue on slides that double as life rafts. Two other slides weren’t able to be deployed because they were in the rear of the plane, which was underwater.
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Ferries and rescue craft nearby were able to remove survivors quickly, but if the passengers on the rafts had been forced into the 41-degree water it’s possible many of them would have suffered “cold shock” – a phenomenon that can lead to drowning within as few as five minutes, the board said.
The board also recommended making life vests easier for passengers to retrieve and put on correctly. Only 33 passengers reported having put on a life vest and only four completed fastening their vest; most struggled with the waist strap or chose not to secure it.
The recommendations revive a long dormant safety debate. The Federal Aviation Administration proposed in 1988 that all planes have life vests and flotation seat cushions regardless of route. However, the proposal was never finalized. It was withdrawn in 2003 because of cost concerns.
Another key recommendation was that FAA examine whether population increases in recent decades of large bird species like the Canada goose have increased the likelihood of more collisions like the one that disabled Flight 1549. In November, a Frontier Airlines Airbus A319 en route to Denver collided with a flock of snow geese, forcing the shutdown of one engine and significantly damaging the other. The plane returned to Kansas City for an emergency landing.
If there are more collisions with large birds, the board wants the FAA to revise its certification standards for aircraft engines to require they be able to withstand larger birds. The geese struck by Flight 1549 were estimated to weigh about 8 pounds; the engines on the plane were designed to withstand a single bird weighing up to 4 pounds. Newer engines are supposed to withstand birds weighing up to 8 pounds, but some geese and other species of concern like white pelicans can weigh over 12 pounds.
The board also wants the FAA to examine the way it tests the ability of small- and medium-sized aircraft engines to reflect operating conditions at low altitudes, which is where most bird strikes happen.
It may be time “for another leap forward in engine standards,” NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman told reporters.
Sullenberger’s decision to ditch into the river “provided the highest probability that the accident would be survivable,” the board said.
Documents released by the board indicate the plane could have made it back to LaGuardia – barely. However, a successful return would have required Sullenberger to make an immediate decision with little or no time to assess the situation. He also would have had no way of knowing that he would be successful.
“Although an emergency return to LaGuardia Runway 13 was technically feasible from an aircraft flight performance point of view, the emergency landing on the Hudson seems the most appropriate decision,” the plane’s manufacturer, Airbus, said in an assessment submitted to the board.
Hersman pointed out all the things that “went right” in the accident, including the quick-thinking and teamwork by the flight crew, the on board equipment for surviving a water landing, and the rapid rescue effort.
“There was a lot of forgiveness in this accident,” Hersman said. “What’s important here is how to protect future passengers and help future flight crews should they end up in a situation like this.”
On the Net:
National Transportation Safety Board: http://www.ntsb.gov