Controller thought ditching in Hudson spelled doom

The air-traffic controller who desperately tried to help a crippled US Airways jet that ditched in the Hudson River last month says he remains haunted by how close the splashdown came to tragedy.

Patrick Harten testified Tuesday before the House Aviation Subcommittee that he had worked emergencies before, but nothing prepared him for a pilot's radio call saying he planned to splashdown in the river after striking birds on Jan. 15.

"I simply could not wrap my mind around those words," Harten said. "I thought it was his own death sentence."

Seeing the jet disappear moments later from radar only deepened the controller's concern. "I was in shock," he said. "I was sure the plane had gone down."

The details of the so-called "Miracle on the Hudson" are well known, but this was the first time that Harten told his part of the story. All 155 passengers and crew aboard Flight 1549 were rescued.

Harten said the aftermath of the incident "hit me hard." He has not worked since the splashdown but said he is returning this week.

Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeffrey Skilling also testified, focusing on the need for congressional action to help pilots in labor negotiations with airlines. Sullenberger said his pay has been cut 40% and his pension largely lost in his airline's bankruptcy.

"I am worried that the airline piloting profession will not be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest," Sullenberger said.

Sullenberger, Skiles and flight attendants Sheila Dail, Donna Dent and Doreen Welsh received an unusual standing ovation from the lawmakers and other attendees at the start of the hearing.

"(Charles) Lindbergh would be proud of you," said Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who chairs the full Transportation Committee.