Airbus A320 floating in the Hudson River

Airbus A320 floating in the Hudson River

After the crash we can see the airplane floating high with its open doors just above the water line. Click for another view of the high floating plane. The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger III, had already walked the plane two times to be absolutely sure all of the people were out before he left the plane himself. OK, so far so good, but then why didn’t he shut the doors after himself when he left? Had he closed the doors the airplane would have floated for years; after all these planes are designed to be pressurized. But now what was a perfectly restorable airplane, except for the engines, which are easily swapped out, may never fly again.

Here is a link to a video of the plane crashing which went quite well, as well as could be hoped for. As you can see from all of these pictures the water was calm but not glassy smooth and probably perfect for water landings. Chesley did keep the wings perfectly level for touchdown which was critically important because the engines hang down well below the fuselage of an A320 and will grab the water when they touch it. If one engine hits a little sooner it will create a violent twisting and possible cartwheeling of the airplane. Here is a link on how to land an Airbus A320 on water with a photo of the plane floating even higher than in the photo above and here is the first responder, a video of a ferry boat coming in, rather rapidly, for the rescue.

In the plane crashing video if you watch the moment of impact carefully you will see the plane’s nose dip down noticeably for a tenth of a second before the splash. That probably happened because the tail touched down first which is what tipped the plane forward. Because the plane was quite level both engines dug into the water simultaneously. Because the water landing was symmetrical the plane decelerated smoothly enough that those who had their seat belts on properly had no difficulty in sustaining the g-forces. It is reported that someone had broken legs which wouldn’t have occurred in this event if they were  properly belted into their seat. Perhaps it was flying luggage which hit them. Below is a map of the flight path with some notations.

Airbus A320 flight path from LaGuardia to the Hudson river.

Airbus A320 flight path from LaGuardia to the Hudson river.

This map bothers me because if it is accurate there was plenty of time and altitude from position #2 where the radio report was made to have returned to LaGuardia Airport at position #1. The distance from the end of the runway to the point labeled #2 is 2.57 miles and to the point of water landing 16.52 miles. That airplane flew for 13.95 miles after calling in the mayday at point #2 when it was only 2.57 miles from the runway. Therefore, if the pilot had returned immediately there was an abundance of time and altitude to make it back to the airport. Even if he had gone to the extreme northernmost part of his flight path there was still enough altitude and flying speed to afford an opportunity to return to LaGuardia or even choose the alternate runway – 13. Even then if he choose a water landing it still could have been made short of the airport and near the flight path he took outbound. Had he been prepared to make a right turn immediately upon bird impact he would have been over water all the way back to the airport and would have been of no risk to the people below.

Airbus A320 possible return flight path after being goosed

Airbus A320 possible return flight path after being goosed

The red X marks the impact with the geese, one goose into each of the two engines which resulted in the non-operation of both and at which point the airliner became a glider. If during the moments after impact the pilot had elected to return to LaGuardia he would then have been presented with the additional opportunity of ditching in the water just short of the runways. At no time would he have been over inhabited areas during his lower altitude maneuvers. The green path is the pre-goose strike, the dotted yellow green is the time to analyze that the engines are failing. the red and yellow dotted line represents the first decision time and the solid red line the time when the runway must be cleared for a wrong way return. If that can not be done then there was the option of a water landing shown in yellow. That yellow option was no worse than the one he chose.

When one looks at how long the actual flight path was after the goosing then it looks very likely that a return to LaGuardia could have been made. Had that been done it is likely there would have been a safe landing and no loss of the airplane and far less risk to the passengers than landing in a near frozen river. In any case there was very little time to make these kinds of decisions and what pilot Chesley Sullenberger III chose to do he did quite well and deserves great commendation.

Would it be possible to put radar reflective tags on wild geese so they could be easily spotted on the airport and airplane radars? Perhaps it wouldn’t be necessary to capture them if it were possible to provide them with some food which was radar reflective when they were close to airports.