What can GA pilots learn from the “Miracle on the Hudson”? Be prepared, said Jeff Skiles, first officer on US Airways Flight 1549, which became famous after it safely landed in the Hudson River last January.
Skiles, 50, was at the controls with Captain Chesley Sullenberger when their Airbus A320 experienced multiple bird strikes and lost power to both engines shortly after takeoff from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 15, 2009. Unable to restart either engine, Sullenberger safely landed the airplane on the Hudson River. Of the 150 passengers and five crew members on board, only a few received minor injuries.
Being prepared means checking the weather and doing a thorough preflight, Skiles said at this year’s Sun ‘n Fun. “But it also means setting limits for yourself,” said Skiles, who has been a pilot since he was 16. “Before you get into a situation, decide how far you are going to take it.”
This means what when dealing with a VFR to IMC situation, for example, you don’t have to make a go-no go decision because “the decision has already been made,” he said.
While the two pilots are considered the heroes of the Miracle on the Hudson, Skiles was quick to point out that “the real story isn’t Scully and I. A whole lot of people were responsible — everybody from the flight attendants to the passengers who were seasoned travelers and watched out for each other,” he said. “Hundreds of people were involved and all were equally responsible for the outcome.”
Skiles, who told his story to Sun ‘n Fun crowds during Wednesday’s Evening Program, noted that the NTSB report on the incident is expected to be released May 4. He believes the outcome of that report is that US Airways will institute new low-altitude engine-out procedures. The existing procedures, which deal with an engine out at 30,000 feet, are three pages long. When US Airways Flight 1549’s engines were destroyed, the plane was at 1,000 feet. It all happened so fast that immediate action was needed — there was no time to wade through all those pages.
“When we lost the engines, the controller was trying to get us to turn around,” he said. “I couldn’t see the airport — it was on Scully’s side of the plane — but we had the Hudson River and it looked good. It was pretty clear what we were going to do.”
He notes that landing at LaGuardia Airport would not have been “a cake walk. We would have had to be perfect,” he said. “If there was too much energy, we would have gone off the runway. We were actually in the one square mile of the U.S. where you would want to do this — there were all these ferry boats in the river to rescue us.”
Last summer, Skiles and Sullenberger took over chairmanship of EAA’s Young Eagles program, a task they were both honored and humbled to accept, Skiles said, noting they are in the company of such aviation luminaries as Cliff Robertson, Chuck Yeager and Harrison Ford.
“This is important to us,” he said. “We have to attract youth to aviation. There are very few things that we can do in life that have such adventure. I never wanted to be anything but a pilot — I don’t think too many accountants can say that.”