The flight crew of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 is not talking about the Miracle on the Hudson since the NTSB is investigating the accident. One detail I noticed since I wrote about the ditching is that complete aircraft engine failure occured around 3000 feet above the ground. I flew a UPS flight earlier today, as a Captain on the Airbus 300, and when we passed 3000 feet, I tried to imagine what it would have been like to have my aircraft lose both engines. Then, to take actions to minimize the damage, recognize I couldn't make a runway, and figure out a way to save the aircraft and not plow into one of the largest metro areas in the world. Now, I'm even more impressed with the amazing display of airmanship by the captain and his crew.
On Monday, my little seven year old friend Noah was buried after his courageous five year battle with cancer. I heard about his death when I was on a UPS trip to Burbank, California. One of Noah's pastors left a message on my cell phone that Noah had died around 6:30 am EST. I was praying for Noah every day. Last October, he was only supposed to live one or two weeks. Around Christmas, the doctors said he would be gone in a day or two. I was praying for a miracle of healing. When I heard the death message, I felt a blow to my faith. I knew Noah was suffering, but I still found a prayer in my heart for God to do a miracle through Noah. A short time later, I watched the reports about Flight 1549. Job's lament and praise from the Bible came to my mind, and I felt compelled to write about Flight 1549 and Noah.
Noah's pastor told me the little boy's mother was comforted by the fact she could hold Noah as he took his last breath. For some time, Noah had been in too much pain to be held by those who loved him. I'm confident Noah is being held now by the One who will love Him for all eternity. I don't think it was coincidence that God took Noah a short time before He saved Flight 1549. My prayer is that God will be greatly glorified through Noah and the Miracle on the Hudson.
So far as I know, my original description of the events, as repeated below, is still my "best guess." I was wrong about the altitude though, it was around 3000 feet instead of 10,000 feet, and that accelerates the entire sequence much, much more. Incredible.
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This morning I learned of the death of a 7 year old friend from cancer. Then, I watched the reports of US Airways Flight 1549 and the Miracle on the Hudson . The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
I'm a UPS pilot, flying as a Captain on the Airbus 300, a somewhat larger aircraft than the one that Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger masterfully piloted to a safe ditching in the Hudson River today. I also was a USAF test pilot and high altitude spy pilot, with over 5000 hours in more than 30 aircraft. Based on my experience, I must tell you what Captain Sullenberger accomplished today was a superlative, daring, and I believe divinely-assisted, feat of airmanship. There were many ways this could have gone wrong, but all 155 lives were saved. Let me share with you how I think this event may have progressed.
The reports say the bird strike occured about 3 or 4 minutes into the flight. This probably put the aircraft at about 10,000 feet. I ran into a flock of sparrows right after takeoff in an aircraft about the same size as the Airbus 320, the USAF KC-135, as a young Air Force co-pilot, and it was frightening to say the least. Bird blood and guts covered our windshield as we heard a series of thumps and whacks. Fortunately, they were small birds and we did not take any signficant damage.
So, Sully's windshield may have been obscured, we don't know that yet. The birds entered the engines, and caused catastrophic failures of both. As the engines failed, there were probably loud compressor stalls, and buffeting of the airframe. Additionally, the aircraft warning systems were sounding bells and alarms, and warning and caution lights were flashing. Some of the passengers said smoke and fumes entered the aircraft's air system.
Yet, despite all this clamor and confusion, Captain Sullenberger and his first officer cooly and calmly did the following in perfect sequence:
1) recognized the catastropic failure of the engines and set up a best gliding speed to maximize their engine out range capabilities
2) accomplished critical action checklists, from memory, to safely shut down the engines and prepare the aircraft for an emergency landing, and discharged the engine's fire bottles to prevent more serious damage from fire
3) depending on the engine instruments displayed in the cockpit, attempted an airstart
4) recognized they could not make an emergency landing at an airfield, and this is what is particularly impressive to me, decided to ditch the aircraft in the Hudson. This required:
5) configuring the aircraft for ditching: closing valves and extending lift and drag devices as required, and making sure auxillary electrical and hydraulic power sources were operating, and:
6) comparing their distance and altitude from the river versus the aircraft's altitude and speed, and estimating what postion they must fly, or glide, the aircraft to that would allow it to land in the river, at a safe approach speed, at an appropriate glide angle, and into the wind. There would be only one chance, a go around was not an option, and the pilots knew many lives were at stake, and:
7) make emergency radio calls to air traffic control for emergency assistance after the ditching, and also inform the flight attendants and passengers to prepare for a hard landing, and, most importantly,
8) fly the most difficult, most stressful, and most dangerous approach that any pilot could be called upon to attempt.
This all happened in a matter of minutes. We do not routinely practice this kind of approach and landing. I have had one engine fire on a four engine KC-135, an electrical generator failure on a single engine F-16, and indications of oil pressure failure on a single engine U-2 that required emergency landings, but never, ever anything like this.
Astoundingly, Captain Sullenberger was a former USAF pilot, and also an airline safety expert who had worked with NASA. The passengers of Flight 1549 had perhaps the best and most qualified pilot at the controls of their aircraft to handle this emergency. And, the bird strike happened at an appropriate time and altitude to allow the pilots to successfully manage this feat of incredible airmanship.
Coincidence you say? I say that somebody prayed for that flight, and I would not be surprised if Sully was a man of God himself. I pray before, during, and after each flight, either when I'm the pilot, or as a passenger or auxillary crewmember. I ask God to help me make decisions quickly and safely. I ask God to protect my aircraft, and all other aircraft flying, from mistakes, weather, mechanical problems, or anything that might prevent a safe flight. I ask God to please give us a quiet and peaceful flight, and let everyone get home safely.
Flying is very safe. It is much more dangerous to drive to and from the airport than to fly. However, for the once in millions and millions of flights where something happened like what transpired over the Hudson River today, we need the divine protection and assistance of God's Holy Spirit.
Pray every time you fly, or a loved one or friend flies. Pray He will guide your and their vessel home safely. God also waits to guide your soul to a safe landing in His River of Life in Heaven. It is a well-know saying, but let Jesus be your copilot, or better, your pilot. He is the safety expert for your life.
I invite you to read my story called "Even Now/music video" that is listed under "Stories by our Users." I talk more about the power of prayer in that story. God bless you and give you many happy landings like the one we witnessed today.