Anatomy of a Water-Crash Rescue

The US Airways passengers and crew members who survived today's Hudson River crash and evacuation in dangerously frigid water can thank the pilot who made a rare commercial airline water landing. They can also thank the federal, state and local agencies that deftly combined rescue efforts to empty the plane in roughly 40 minutes, rescue and aviation experts said.

But they were lucky too.

The location of the crash was fortunate, "if there can be a fortunate outcome in a situation like this," said Pat Smith, spokesman for NY Waterway, the private ferry system that provides commuter service and tourist excursions in New York Harbor.

The crash occurred "right at the main NY Waterway commuter route ... [where] as many as 10 ferries can respond within minutes at this time of day. Several ferries moved into position to do rescues here."

Ferry crews, he said, are prepared to do water rescues. "These crews train at this regularly. ... That's a fortunate turn in this unfortunate event."

Water rescues can be particularly dangerous, according to Mike Turnbull, owner of Rescue 3 International, a California company that does training in the United States and abroad. "We've had school buses where people were trapped, but usually when they go underwater, there isn't very much time. You can only survive without oxygen for a very short time."

He said one reason US Airways passengers fared so well that the fuselage was airtight and floated. Most swift-water or rescue teams are "not equipped to handle" getting people out of a submerged vehicle without flooding it.

"They float for a little bit of time before they submerge," he said of most vehicles. "There is a window of opportunity to exit."

As he watched rescue crews bring the passengers to safety, Turnbull said, "It's a miracle. I marvel at the crew. They need to be commended for the procedures they set in place prior to the accident and their training. It's a miracle the folks made it out."

Rescue Without Causing Injury

New York City Fire Department spokesman Jim Long said the challenge was to rescue people without causing further injury in such a precarious situation.

"We also have to make sure the rescuers don't become part of the causalities," Long told before a multiforce rescue team was sent to the scene. "We have to stabilize the plane. We are trying to do this in as a quick a fashion as possible to get people out safely.

"It doesn't make it any easier with the water temperature today," which was reportedly about 40 degrees.

Also called to the scene were the New York Police Department, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"The whole thing is remarkable, from the flying to the evacuation to the recovery operation," said Bob Mann, an airline industry analyst at R.W. McMcMann in Port Washington, N.Y. "It was all accomplished within less than an hour on a terrible day to be on the water unprotected."

The pilot reported a bird strike before he landed the plane in the water.

Detective Michael Delaney, an NYPD diver, swam to a woman whom he described as lethargic, almost hypothermic. All she could say was that she was "very cold," he said. "The pure size of the incident made this a very different situation to deal with," said Delaney, who had only done small rescues before today.

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