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Survivors describe miracle of Hudson crash

world Updated: Jan 16, 2009 09:51 IST

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This was an airplane passenger queue unlike any other, a line across a sinking wing to escape death.

Within seconds of crash landing in the Hudson River, passengers from US Airways flight 1549 gathered on the wings, the frigid waters lapping around their feet.

Minutes earlier, the 150 passengers, including a mother with a baby, had been settling into their regular flight from La Guardia to Charlotte, North Carolina.

Then came every traveler's worst nightmare.

Both engines cut, one of them apparently on fire and the pilot issued a terse instruction for everyone to brace.

Once the plane began gliding to Earth, the loudest sound was of people praying.

"There was a lot of silence at that point," said survivor Fred Berretta on CNN television. "People started praying. It was hard to take in."

The plane ploughed into the Hudson, just off Manhattan's 42nd Street.

Everyone, from President George W Bush to astonished onlookers, praised the pilot's skill in managing that landing.

But ordinary people also performed heroic acts, a group effort that ended with everyone, even the baby, escaping alive and few suffering serious injury.

"It went eerily quiet. No one was actually talking," passenger Joshua Peltz said on CNN.

"I opened up the door and let the woman in the exit row past me. At this time the wing was still above the water but slowly (water) started rising above. It went to about knee level."

Berretta also recalled passengers' courage, with those in the emergency rows opening the doors almost immediately. "I don't recall panic really at all. People were amazingly calm."

Another survivor, Jeff Kolodjay, told CNN that he and others had made "sure that women and children got on" to a raft.

"There was a lady with a baby trying to crawl over the seats and I just said, 'women and children first.'"

As passengers escaped, the pilot stayed behind, checking through the increasingly waterlogged aircraft to make sure that everyone was safe.

"He walked the plane twice after everybody else was off," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said later.

Out on the river, ferries that ordinarily take commuters and tourists around New York harbor swarmed to help.

They surrounded the stricken aircraft, while crew threw lifejackets into the water, and rushed survivors to shore for treatment.

Watching the incredible drama from Manhattan was maintenance worker Troy Keitt, 46.

"I was on pier 84 picking up the garbage. Then I looked into the water and I saw the plane floating by. I thought I was in a movie," he said.

"There was about 30 or 40 people on the wing. No one was screaming, no one was panicking," he said. "I know there is a God because the plane was still in one piece."

Bloomberg even managed to joke.

He was glad the city had been able to help, he said. But "this is not normally the way people arrive."