David Paterson, New York's governor, called Sullenberger a hero, saying: "We've had a miracle on the Hudson.

"The pilot somehow, without any engines, was able to land this plane ... without any serious injuries," Paterson said.

Passengers injured

The Federal Aviation Administration said that there were a number of injured people who had been taken to New York hospitals.

Passengers were brought from the plane into
freezing water [Reuters]
The jet, which crashed near several commuter ferries on the river, floated downstream until rescue boats arrived as hundreds watched from office towers overlooking the river.

Laura Brown, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman, said Flight 1549 had just taken off en route to Charlotte, North Carolina, when the crash occurred about a minute later.

The pilot radioed flight controllers that he had hit birds a few miles from the airport, law enforcement sources said.

A passenger said that a few minutes after the plane took off he heard what sounded like an explosion.

One passenger, Jeff Kolodjay, from Norwalk, Connecticut, said: "The engine blew. There was fire everywhere and it smelled like gas."

He said the pilot announced that the plane was going down and told passengers to brace for the impact.

"People were bleeding all over. We hit the water pretty hard. It was scary."

The plane initially sank up to its windows.

Rescuers using coast guard vessels and ferries opened the door and pulled passengers out.

Temperatures were at about -6.7C, one of the coldest days of the year.