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US plane crash blamed on birds
Black box data indicates jet's two engines shut down after colliding with flock of birds.
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2009 01:24 GMT
Ice floes in the river had slowed the search for a missing engine [AFP]

Black box recordings retrieved from the US Airways jet that crashed into the Hudson river in New York last week have indicated that a flock of birds was to blame.

Fragments of cockpit recordings released on Sunday indicated that a collision with a flock of birds crippled the plane's two engines.

The voice recording shows that "about 90 seconds after take-off the captain remarks about birds", Kitty Higgins, from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), told a news conference.

"One second later the cockpit voice recorder recorded the sound of thumps and rapid decrease of engine sounds. The captain acknowledges that both engines have lost power and he takes control of the aircraft," Higgins said.

The other black box, which records flight data, also indicates that both engines lost power simultaneously in Thursday's drama as the plane was flying from New York's LaGuardia airport to Charlotte, North Carolina.

The two pilots had earlier told the NTSB that they had seen big brown birds smash into the plane and had lost power in both engines immediately.

Salvage crews raised the sunken Airbus A320 late on Saturday and were finally able to remove its black boxes.

But investigators have yet to analyse the wrecked engines and fuselage of the Airbus, with Higgins saying that ice floes in the river had slowed the search for a missing engine that is believed to have separated from the aircraft when it crash-landed.

A police team said on Saturday it believed it had found the location of the torn off engine.

Brilliant handling

Chesley Sullenberger, the captain of the plane, was credited with saving the lives of all 155 people on board with brilliant handling that experts say prevented the plane from breaking up.

On Saturday, he described to NTSB investigators how just after take-off the cockpit windscreen "was literally filled with big, dark brown birds", Higgins recounted. "He said his instinct was to duck, but he didn't."
 
The captain and co-pilot reported they "heard booms, felt the impact, the power went down and they smelled - this is the captain saying - they smelled 'burning birds'."

With both engines out, the captain decided that the only place he could land without endangering people on the ground was the Hudson.

After a perfect water landing just off Manhattan, all 150 passengers and five crew were able to walk out of the sinking aircraft and enter rescue boats.

Sullenberger told investigators that in line with standard procedures, he had brought down the plane close to a boat he saw on the river so that help would be near, Higgins said.

Security camera film footage released on Saturday showed for the first time the moment of impact. Water shoots up as the plane makes a perfectly straight landing.

Higgins, who said the NTSB might need about a year to complete its report on the accident, said that the key to survival was training.

"Everyone's talking about the miracle on the Hudson which is a wonderful image, but in fact ... miracles happen because a lot of everyday things happen … everything happened because people were trained for years," she said.

Source:
Agencies
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