As praise pours in for the crew of U.S. Air Flight 1549, we wondered how long it would take for someone to second-guess the actions of Captain Chesley Sullenberger and his crew.
Consider the headline for this Associated Press article, posted at Breitbart.com.
"Source: Pilot rejected 2 airport landings"
That headline is grossly misleading; it suggests that Sullenberger and his co-pilot turned down the option of returning to New York's LaGuardia Airport (where the flight originated), or Teterboro Airport in northern New Jersey.
The rest of the story isn't quite as bad, but it's obvious that the AP's Michael J. Sniffen, who wrote the article, has no aviation experience. His account is based on a source who was "briefed" on the crew's communications with air traffic controllers. In other words, the individual who spoke with the AP wasn't in the ATC facility when the plane went down and probably got his (or her) information second-hand. Here's how the "source" summarized the exchange between Sullenberger and controllers, as the U.S. Air pilot weighed his options:
Air traffic controllers first gave Sullenberger directions to return to LaGuardia, but he replied, "unable." Then he saw the Teterboro airstrip in the northern New Jersey suburbs, got clearance to go there, but then again responded, "unable." He then said he was going into the river.
What the "source" (and the AP) fail to note is that "unable" doesn't mean that the Captain rejected emegency landings at LaGuardia or Teterboro. Sullenberger's terse response meant the A320 couldn't make it to either airport, based on the aircraft's altitude, loss of power, and the distances to those airfields.
Heading back to LaGuardia would have required another turn and a dangerous glide over Manhattan, most likely leading to a crash landing--short of the field--in some of the most densely-populated terrain in the world. Trying for Teterboro would have produced the same, disastrous results. In that split second, confronted with a situation few pilots encounter, Sullenberger chose his only viable option: a risky water landing in the Hudson River.
Oh, and did we mention that no one has ever ditched an airliner and everyone lived to tell about it?
Yesterday's "Miracle on the Hudson" is largely the result of an exceptionally skilled U.S. Air crew, and emergency personnel who responded so quickly. That's the real story, not some tripe about "rejected" landings at LaGuardia and Teterboro.
As for the AP, it's about what you'd expect. Stay tuned; the wire service is probably working on another "exclusive," explaining how the Bush Administration was responsible for what happened to Flight 1549.