×

What Happened on Flight 1549, Inside and Out

Inside the plane, 155 people were bracing for impact. In Midtown Manhattan and beyond, witnesses caught a clear glimpse of Flight 1549 as it ditched in the Hudson River shortly after takeoff at 3:26 p.m. on Thursday. Here are the accounts of some of the passengers and witnesses interviewed by The New York Times and other news organizations:

usairways_crash4.jpg

Bill Zuhoski, 23, works for a pool company on Long Island, and was headed to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for a golf trip with friends. They were booked on an earlier flight but it was canceled, so he was in seat 23A:

“It seemed like the pilot had everything under control, and then I noticed the stewardess in the back asked for a fire extinguisher, saying there was a fire. Once we saw panic with the stewardess, then everybody started to panic. It became real. The people sitting next to me, we were interlocking with our arms.”

The next thing Mr. Zuhoski recalled was the pilot saying “Brace for impact.” And he recalled thinking “How do you brace yourself for impact when you know your plane is about to crash?”

When the plane hit the water, “For a second I just thought I was going to die right there, I was just going to drown to death.”

Elizabeth McHugh, 64, a mother of three and grandmother of six, was on her way home to Charlotte, N.C., after a visit with a daughter who lives in Matewan, N.J.:

“There wasn’t a problem when we took off. Then there was a big bang.” After the pilot announced the plane would go down, the flight crew was shouting out instructions: feet flat on the floor, heads down and cover your heads. “I prayed and prayed and prayed. Believe me, I prayed.”

  • To hear the reaction of an aviation Expert, click here

“I knew we were going to crash. The question was: how close to the buildings were we going to be. Honestly. I thought we were all going to die.” Before impact, “I kept thinking to myself, “I didn’t get a chance to tell my family I love them.” She’s been flying several times a week for 10 years. “I thought today was that day.”

Her son-in-law, Mark Jameson, works in Hoboken and said he saw the plane outside his window. He immediately thought, “Uh-oh, I bet my mother-in-law’s on that plane.”

Alberto Panero, a passenger, told CNN: “Within a couple of minutes, all of a sudden you just heard a loud bang, and the plane shook a bit. … All of a sudden the captain came on and said, ‘Brace for impact,’ and that’s when we knew we were going down.”

David Watta, 42, a vice president at a travel media company, was headed home to New Jersey on the Weehawken Ferry as the plane went down. His ferry immediately changed course and headed toward the crash site. Shortly after it arrived, he said, passengers from the downed flight began to come aboard the ferry.

  • To watch footage of the initial rescue, click here.

“We were holding people, hugging them, reassuring them, holding their hands, warming them with our body heat,” he said.

“We provided cell phones so they could call loved ones. A lot of them were so cold that they couldn’t dial, so we dialed for them. I would say that everyone on the ferry were heroes for the day. They were all civilians who stepped up in a time of need to help their fellow citizens.”

Fred Baretta, a passenger, told CNN: “It was pretty intense. It didn’t last long; the river is very very smooth … I was really expecting the plane would careen or flip over or break apart.”

usairways_crash7.jpg

Amy Brightfield and Barbara Brody, both magazine editors, were on the 42nd floor an office building at Broadway at 50th. So smooth was the plane’s landing that Ms. Brody, facing the window, told Ms. Brightfield that a plane was going down in the river, but “maybe it’s supposed to be that way.”

“The plane landed in the water and it stayed afloat,” Ms. Brightfield said. “The crash looked very calm and deliberate, it looked the way a plane looked when it’s crashing on the runway. It landed on the water, looked like it was making a landing except it was on the water.”

Fulmer Duckworth, 41, who designs computer graphics for the Bank of America, was meeting with his boss on the 29th floor of the building at West 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue when he saw the plane hit the Hudson. “It made this huge, gigantic splash, and I actually thought it was a boat crash at first,” he said. “It didn’t occur to me that it was a plane in the water.”

  • To listen to an eyewitness, watch this video

A colleague handed him binoculars, and through them, he saw about 80 people standing on the wings. “It looked like everybody was really calm, like on the subway platform when it’s really, really crowded, and everyone’s standing shoulder to shoulder.”

Neil Lasher, 62, a consultant for Sony Music Publishing who lives in Gutenberg, N.J., saw the plane hit the water from his 27th-floor apartment. “I almost got that same choked-up feeling when I saw the second plane hit the tower, not anything like that at all, but the only similarity is seeing jets go down where they don’t belong. It’s heavy. You don’t know, it could’ve been tragic.”

Carl, a passenger from Florida, told CBS News: “I was three seats away from the door; the guys on the door flipped those doors so fast, the people, the passengers. Everybody, they kind of crammed, everybody filed out onto the wing, and then we were all on the water. I was in water up to my knees.”

Joyce Cordero, 34, associate producer with 60 Minutes, saw the incident from her office window. “We were able to see dozens of people on the wings,” she said. “I could see the plane floating for about 10 minutes as it went downstream. One of those things, you don’t expect to see in a lifetime.”

Tierney Santiago, 34, private investigator from the Upper West Side, was driving along the West Side Highway as he saw the plane gliding toward the surface of the water. “I said, ‘That doesn’t look right. I was using the Jersey landscape as a point of reference. I saw it splash down a few dozen blocks south of me. It was a huge splash, but the pilot did a great job.”

Susan Obel, who lives on 70th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, on the 20th floor, was talking to a friend when she saw a low-flying plane. “It almost was an eerie feeling, like 9/11, because there was a plane somewhere it wasn’t supposed to be.”

Joy Smith-Jones, an assistant principal at Middle School 45 in the Bronx, was at the school when she heard a loud explosion overhead. “Everyone started looking up and we could see the side propeller or engine was on fire.”