They were now it the frigid Hudson river, in 50 feet of water on a winter day.
Flight attendants said they shouted "leave everything, come forward, put on life vests." They opened the forward doors to deploy the evacuation slides, which double as life rafts. One of the slides would not automatically inflate, but a flight attendant was able to manually inflate it.
The passengers began scrambling out the front and over-wing exits. In the rear of the plane, a flight attendant decided it wasn't safe to open the doors -- but a panicked passenger cracked one of them, and water began seeping in.
Nearby ferries and other boats raced to the rescue.
Flight attendants say Sullenberger was very concerned about counting the passengers, and he returned several times to the plane to make sure everyone was off. He and the first officer and a flight attendant were the last off the jet, which was now slowly sinking into the Hudson River.
Splashdown came just three minutes and thirty seconds after the catastrophic loss of power, and just five minutes after the plane left the runway for what all 155 on board expected would be a routine flight to Charlotte.
Capt. Sullenberger had nothing but praise for the work of his crew. "He could not be more happy that everyone got off the plane safely," said Higgins.