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Published:February 7th, 2009 12:03 EST
Recordings of Flight 1549`s Last Radio Contact Are Released

Recordings of Flight 1549`s Last Radio Contact Are Released

By Christopher HIllenbrand

The Federal Aviation Administration leaked the final audio between US Airways flight 1549 and LaGuardia`s radio tower before the plane`s fate became a lingering doubt, on Thursday.


On January 15th, Chesley `Sully` Sullenberger, the heroic pilot of the plane, jettisoned the Airbus A320 in the Hudson River and saved 155 lives in the process. The since celebrated pilot has become a national sensation after conducting the miraculous water landing after weaving through Manhattan skyscrapers.


Hit birds, we lost thrust in both engines, we`re turning back to LaGuardia, the plane`s cockpit radioed in shortly after taking off from the Queens, N.Y. hub.


Controllers, quickly dispatched to handle the emergency, messaged LaGuardia to halt departures and await the aborted flight`s return to the airport. Flight 1549`s crew notified those on the ground that landing in the Hudson may be their only option. The plane had to be manually glided down by the pilot by this time.     


Before radio silence, Sullenberger displayed equanimity and resolve in engaging with air traffic controllers after the plane`s second engine stalled. Bedlam ensued with various air traffic towers in the greater NYC area as the time to save the flight and its passengers became dire. The last audio exchanges between Flight 1549 and air traffic control indicate exactly how desperate the situation is.


Emergency inbound, an air traffic controller at LaGuardia`s control tower called in regards to redirecting the disabled aircraft to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.


A controller from New York TRACON (the Terminal Radar Approach Control Center in local Westbury, N.Y.) then asked the Teterboro radio tower: can I get him in for Runway One?


Runway One, that`s good,  the Teterboro controller answered.

Then TRACON`s controller commanded Cactus 1529 turn right two-eight-zero: a coordinate on course for a runway at Teterboro, to the pilot. A representative from US Airways stated that Cactus is a call code used to denote their jets. 1529 wasn`t the right flight number but was recognized by airline officials as an understandable mistake made by the controller especially during a stressful situation.


Sullenberger matter-of-factly responded: we can`t do it, to the chagrin of all the controllers on the frequency.


Which runway would you like at Teterboro,  LaGuardia continued.

Then in an ominous turn of events, the pilot uttered: we`re going to be in the Hudson.


I`m sorry, say again Cactus, another controller asked, confirming that the pilot was in effect preparing to abandon the jet in the river.


The aircraft never responded back. After a momentary pause awaiting the cockpit`s response, the controller was obviously nerved as he sighed all right to himself about the flight regarded by many to be lost at that point.


Since all on board, including crew members and passengers, were rescued from the murky sub-freezing water of the Hudson, investigations into the causes of the ill-fated flight have confirmed the crew`s firsthand accounts. Maintenance records showed that the plane`s engines met all the FAA`s latest safety guidelines.


The engines` temperature sensor however had been replaced only two days prior to the crisis leading some to believe it may have been improperly installed. According to the flight`s data recorder though, the new device was functioning properly at the time. 


In fact, examinations of the engines and the flight data recorder reaffirmed that birds were the only culprits behind the malfunction. The salvaged Airbus now lies in repose at a wreckage yard in Kearny, New Jersey, where it shall stay until the National Transportation Safety Board`s inquiry has concluded in 12 to 18 months.