‘Miracle on the Hudson’ safety advice not carried out

Joan Lowy
Associated Press

Washington — In the seven years since an airline captain saved 155 lives by ditching his crippled airliner in the Hudson River, there’s been enough time to write a book and make a movie, but apparently not enough to carry out most of the safety recommendations stemming from the accident.

Of the 35 recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board in response to the incident involving US Airways Flight 1549, only six have been heeded, according to an Associated Press review of board records.

The movie “Sully,” which opened in theaters last week is based in part on an autobiography by veteran pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, played by Tom Hanks. It celebrates how Sullenberger, along with his co-pilot, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, ferry boat operators and first responders, did their jobs with professionalism and competence, averting a potential tragedy. The plane lost thrust in both engines after colliding with a flock of Canada geese shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York. No one died, and only five people were seriously injured.

“The FAA was very upset back then that we made any recommendations at all,” recalled Tom Haueter, who was the NTSB’s head of aviation safety at the time. “They thought this was a success story.”

But to investigators, the event turned up problems. “This could happen again and we want to make sure that if it does, there are some better safety measures in place,” Haueter said.

Fourteen of the recommendations issued to the Federal Aviation Administration and its European counterpart, EASA, are marked by the NTSB as “closed-unacceptable,” which means that regulators rejected the advice. One has been withdrawn, and the rest remain unresolved.

The untold story of the “Miracle on the Hudson” was the part luck played in preventing catastrophe on that freezing afternoon in January 2009. The wind chill was 2 degrees and the water temperature was 41 degrees, raising the risk of “cold shock,” a condition in which people lose the use of their arms and legs, usually drowning within 5 minutes.

It was sheer chance that the plane, an Airbus A320, was equipped with rafts, life vests and seat cushions that can be used for flotation. The equipment is only required on “extended overwater” flights, and not on Flight 1549’s New York to Charlotte, North Carolina, route.

The NTSB recommended requiring life vests and flotation cushions on all planes, regardless of the route. But the FAA responded that it was leaving that up to the airlines.

The board also recommended that vest storage be redesigned for easier retrieval.