All passengers survive plane crash in US river (Lead)

January 16th, 2009 - 7:34 am ICT by IANS  

New York, Jan 16 (DPA) All 155 people on board a US Airways passenger plane that crashed Thursday into New York’s frigid Hudson river were rescued, the head of the airline said.The passengers were able to escape the Airbus 320 through openings in the fuselage, half of which floated above the icy water shortly after the crash, allowing passengers to stand on the nearly submerged wings before rescue ships arrived.

The Airbus 320 headed to Charlotte, North Carolina, took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport at 3.26 p.m. and crashed less than three minutes after takeoff, Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) spokesman Laura Brown said.

“We can confirm our preliminary report that everyone is off the plane,” US Airways chairman and chief executive officer Douglas Parker said. He said care teams of specially trained volunteers were currently assisting the 150 passengers and five crew members, including the captain.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said authorities were still determining the total number of passengers and crew onboard the plane, but that it appeared everyone had gotten out safely.

Bloomberg said the pilot walked the plane’s aisle twice to make sure that all the passengers had been rescued. Some of the passengers were taken to neighbouring New Jersey and others to New York, which demanded some time for authorities to check and confirm that all were safe. One infant was among those rescued, Bloomberg said.

“The pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure everyone got off,” he said.

New York Governor David Paterson described the rescue efforts as a “miracle” and called the pilot a hero.

Eyewitnesses reported a large flock of birds was seen in the area, but it was unclear whether that had caused the crash.

“It’s premature to speculate about the cause of the accident,” Parker said, urging the media not to draw conclusions about what caused the crash in the frigid of the Hudson River in the midst of winter.

He said reports that a bird or flock of birds hit the plane, causing the accident, will be investigated.

He said the federal National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the cause of the accident with the “complete support” of US Airways and others.

“Right now we’re working to cafe for those who were touched by this accident and members of the families and the company will come to help as they can,” Parker said.

US Coast Guard vessels and ferries that ply the river rushed to the downed plane, throwing down rafts and life jackets allowing the passengers to get on shore in Manhattan, US broadcasters showed.

Passengers told broadcasters that the pilot warned them on the plane’s loudspeaker after the plane was apparently hit by birds: “Prepare for impact.” They said apparently the left engine failed before the craft hit the river.

One passenger, Mary Snow, said there was an explosion before the plane hit the river.

CNN reported that the passengers were taken ashore in Manhattan and were given blankets in the frigid temperatures that hit New York City this week.

Half of the fuselage and the tail were seen floating, surrounded by the vessels and ferries, after the passengers got off the plane.

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