NEW YORK (Reuters) – A US Airways jet with more than 150 people on board came down into the frigid Hudson River off Manhattan after apparently hitting a flock of geese on Thursday and officials said everyone was rescued.
The Federal Aviation Administration said "We've confirmed everyone got off." A number of people were injured and taken to New York hospitals on a day that had seen a snow storm in the morning and below freezing temperatures.
The FAA said it was investigating reports that the Airbus A320 plane hit a flock of birds after taking off from New York's LaGuardia airport. Witnesses saw it make an emergency landing, kicking up a cloud of spray on the river.
US Airways said 150 passengers and five crew were aboard the Airbus A320 when it came down.
The pilot radioed flight controllers that he had hit birds a few miles (kilometers) from the airport, law enforcement sources said.
A passenger told Reuters that a few minutes after takeoff he heard what sounded like and explosion.
"The engine blew. There was fire everywhere and it smelled like gas," Jeff Kolodjay, from Norwalk, Connecticut, told Reuters on a midtown Manhattan quay.
He said the pilot announced that the plane was going down and told passengers to brace for the impact. After the plane landed on the water, he said, "People were bleeding all over. We hit the water pretty hard. It was scary."
"You gotta give it to the pilot, he made a hell of a landing," said Kolodjay, visibly shaken from his experience. The pilot brought the plane down in a cloud of spray in the fast moving river, which runs to the West of Manhattan island.
Kolodjay said he and others climbed onto a life raft and were rescued from there.
Another rescued passenger, Alberto Panero, told CNN, "It's just incredible that everyone's alive."
As many as eight ferries and local water taxi services rushed to rescue passengers, some of whom lined up on the half-submerged plane's wings wearing yellow life vests, before police boats arrived.
Aviation experts said that landing a commercial jet on water without the plane breaking apart was extraordinary.
"A water landing is typically even more destructive than a ground landing. It is amazing an Airbus jet was able to land in the river without breaking up," said Max Vermij, a plane accident investigator with Accident Cause Analysis of Ottawa, Canada.
He speculated the plane would have hit the water at a speed of about 140 knots. "Typically the wings and engines would break off on impact, water would plow into the jet and tear apart the fuselage."
At St. Luke's Roosevelt hospital in midtown Manhattan, patients arrived with one elderly couple still wearing their life preservers. A hospital spokesman said he expected as many as 50 patients with exposure and secondary injuries, while more serious injuries being sent to nearby hospitals.
Thomson Reuters employee Alex Whittaker who was in a 22nd floor meeting room at the company's Times Square building, said, "I saw the plane coming in very low but under control, it splashed down in the water. Once it cleared it was still floating on its belly.
"The doors opened and we could see life rafts and we could just about see a few people climbing out onto the water."
Flight 1549 was headed for Charlotte, North Carolina.
Nick Prisco was driving on the highway by the river when he saw the incident and pulled over.
Like many in a city that lived through the 9/11 attacks, the sight of a plane flying so low immediately revived for him memories of the attack by hijacker airliners in 2001. "It was bizarre, it was surreal. I thought it was a terrorist attack," he told Reuters.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington said there were no indications that this incident was a result of a terrorist attack.
National Transportation Safety Board records show there have been more than 200 incidents involving bird strikes since 1962.
Doug Parker, chairman and CEO of US Airways, said it was too soon to speculate on what caused the incident.