It’s been described as “the most successful ditching in aviation history,” but in reality, it was more than that. It was nothing short of heroic.
On Jan. 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 hit a flock of Canada geese after taking off from LaGuardia International Airport in New York. The collision caused both of the Airbus A320-214’s engines to shut down, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. That left Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg and crew needing to make a decision in seconds: the plane was coming down – it was just a matter of where.
When Sullenberger discovered he was unable to turn back toward LaGuardia, he soon realized he only had one option: the Hudson River. Other options risked him crashing in densely-populated areas in New Jersey, according to Fox News.
More than 150 people’s lives were in Sullenberger’s hands when he brought the aircraft to a glide descent into the Hudson River, then opened his cockpit door and demanded the crew and passengers to evacuate.
It was a frigid January day, with temperatures outside about -7 degrees Celsius in the air, and 5 degrees Celsius in the water, according to a subsequent NTSB report. Some passengers stood on the plane wings, knee-deep in water, waiting to be rescued by emergency personnel.
Incredibly, despite the circumstances of the landing and the icy temperatures in the air and water, all 155 people on board US Airways Flight 1549 survived. According to NPR, many passengers were treated for hypothermia and minor injuries, but no one died.
Sullenberger was rightly deemed a hero, and the event was dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson.” He was personally thanked by outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, and incoming U.S. President Barack Obama invited him to his inaugural balls.
Since then, he has received numerous accolades, including the keys to the city from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and various awards for bravery. A movie about the “Miracle on the Hudson” was made, starring Tom Hanks as Sullenberger. He has since written two books, and works for CBS News as an aviation and safety expert.
Check out the gallery above for some shots of that fateful day, and some things that have happened to Sullenberger since.