Each passenger later received a letter of apology, $5,000 in compensation for lost baggage (and $5,000 more if they could demonstrate larger losses) and a refund of the ticket price. In May 2009 they received any belongings that had been recovered. In addition, they reported offers of $10,000 each in return for agreeing not to sue US Airways.
The flight was cleared for takeoff to the northeast from LaGuardia's Runway 4 at 3:24:56 pm Eastern Standard Time (20:24:56 UTC). With Skiles in control, the crew made its first report after becoming airborne at 3:25:51 as being at 700 feet (210 m) and climbing. The weather at 2:51 p.m. was 10 miles (16 km) visibility with broken clouds at 3,700 feet (1,100 m), wind 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph) from 290°; an hour later it was few clouds at 4,200 feet (1,300 m), wind 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph) from 310°. At 3:26:37 Sullenberger remarked to Skiles: "What a view of the Hudson today."
Sullenberger asked controllers for landing options in New Jersey, mentioning Teterboro Airport. Permission was given for Teterboro's Runway 1, Sullenberger initially responded "Yes", but then: "We can't do it ... We're gonna be in the Hudson". The aircraft passed less than 900 feet (270 m) above the George Washington Bridge. Sullenberger commanded over the cabin address system, "Brace for impact", and the flight attendants relayed the command to passengers. Meanwhile, air traffic controllers asked the Coast Guard to caution vessels in the Hudson and ask them to prepare to assist with the rescue.
Sullenberger opened the cockpit door and gave the order to evacuate. The crew began evacuating the passengers through the four overwing window exits and into an inflatable slide/raft deployed from the front right passenger door (the front left slide failed to operate, so the manual inflation handle was pulled). A panicked passenger opened a rear door, which a flight attendant was unable to reseal. Water was also entering through a hole in the fuselage and through cargo doors that had come open, so as the water rose the attendant urged passengers to move forward by climbing over seats. One passenger was in a wheelchair. Finally, Sullenberger walked the cabin twice to confirm it was empty.
The air and water temperatures were about 19 °F (−7 °C) and 41 °F (5 °C) respectively. Some evacuees waited for rescue knee-deep in water on the partially submerged slides, some wearing life-vests. Others stood on the wings or, fearing an explosion, swam away from the plane. One passenger, after helping with the evacuation, found the wing so crowded that he jumped into the river and swam to a boat.
The pilot in command was 57-year-old Chesley B. Sullenberger, a former fighter pilot who had been an airline pilot since leaving the United States Air Force in 1980. At the time, he had logged 19,663 total flight hours, including 4,765 in an A320; he was also a glider pilot and expert on aviation safety. First officer Jeffrey B. Skiles, 49, had accrued 20,727 career flight hours, but this was his first Airbus A320 assignment since qualifying to fly it. There were 150 passengers and three flight attendants on board.
On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 with call sign 'CACTUS 1549' was scheduled to fly from New York City's LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Charlotte Douglas (CLT), with direct onward service to Seattle–Tacoma International Airport. The aircraft was an Airbus A320-214 powered by two GE Aviation/Snecma-designed CFM56-5B4/P turbofan engines.
At 3:27:11 the plane struck a flock of Canada geese at an altitude of 2,818 feet (859 m) about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) north-northwest of LaGuardia. The pilots' view was filled with the large birds; passengers and crew heard very loud bangs and saw flames from the engines, followed by silence and an odor of fuel.
At 3:27:33, Sullenberger radioed a mayday call to New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON): "... this is Cactus 1539 [sic – correct call sign was Cactus 1549], hit birds. We've lost thrust on both engines. We're turning back towards LaGuardia". Air traffic controller Patrick Harten told LaGuardia's tower to hold all departures and directed Sullenberger back to Runway 13. Sullenberger responded, "Unable".
About ninety seconds later, at 3:31 pm, the plane made an unpowered ditching, descending southwards at about 125 knots (140 mph; 230 km/h) into the middle of the North River section of the Hudson tidal estuary, at 40.7695°N 74.0046°W on the New York side of the state line, roughly opposite West 50th Street (near the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum) in Manhattan and Port Imperial in Weehawken, New Jersey. Flight attendants compared the ditching to a "hard landing" with "one impact, no bounce, then a gradual deceleration." The ebb tide then began to take the plane southward.
Sullenberger had ditched near boats, which facilitated rescue. NY Waterway ferries Thomas Jefferson and then Governor Thomas H. Kean both arrived within minutes and began taking people aboard using Jason's cradle. Sullenberger advised the ferry crews to rescue those on the wings first, as they were in more jeopardy than those on the slides, which detached to become life rafts. As the plane drifted, passengers on one slide, fearing that the boat would crush them, shouted for it to steer away. The last person was taken from the plane at 3:55 pm. About 140 New York City firefighters responded to nearby docks, as did police, helicopters, and various vessels and divers. Other agencies provided medical help on the Weehawken side of the river, where most passengers were taken.
There were five serious injuries, including a deep laceration in flight attendant Doreen Welsh's leg. Seventy-eight people were treated, mostly for minor injuries and hypothermia; twenty-four passengers and two rescuers were treated at hospitals, with two passengers kept overnight. One passenger now wears glasses because of eye damage from jet fuel. No pets were being carried on the flight.
The partially submerged plane was moored to a pier near the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan, roughly 4 miles (6 km) downstream from the ditching location. The left engine, detached by the ditching, was recovered from the riverbed. On January 17 the aircraft was barged to New Jersey. The initial National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) evaluation that the plane had lost thrust after a bird strike was confirmed by analysis of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders. Two days earlier the plane had experienced a less severe compressor stall, but the affected engine was restarted. A faulty temperature sensor was replaced, and inspection verified the engine had not been damaged in that incident.
The crew, especially Sullenberger, was praised, notably by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York State Governor David Paterson, who said: "We had a Miracle on 34th Street. I believe now we have had a Miracle on the Hudson." U.S. President George W. Bush said he was "inspired by the skill and heroism of the flight crew," and praised the emergency responders and volunteers. President-elect Barack Obama said that everyone was proud of Sullenberger's "heroic and graceful job in landing the damaged aircraft." He thanked the crew, whom he invited to his inauguration five days later.
On January 21, the NTSB found evidence of soft-body damage in the right engine along with organic debris including a feather. The left engine also evidenced soft body impact, with: "dents on both the spinner and inlet lip of the engine cowling. Five booster inlet guide vanes are fractured and eight outlet guide vanes are missing." Both engines, missing large portions of their housings, were sent to the manufacturer for examination. On January 31, the plane was moved to Kearny, New Jersey. The bird remains were later identified by DNA testing to be Canada geese, which typically weigh more than engines are designed to withstand ingesting.
Sully (also known as Sully: Miracle on the Hudson) is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Todd Komarnicki, based on the autobiography Highest Duty by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow. Tom Hanks stars as Sullenberger, with Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Holt McCallany, Jamey Sheridan, and Jerry Ferrara in supporting roles. The film follows Sullenberger's January 2009 emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, in which all 155 passengers and crew survived with only minor injuries, and the subsequent publicity and investigation.
Realizing that both engines had shut down, Sullenberger took control while Skiles worked the checklist for engine restart. The aircraft slowed but continued to climb for a further 19 seconds, reaching about 3,060 feet (930 m) at an airspeed of about 185 knots (343 km/h; 213 mph), then began a glide descent, accelerating to 210 knots (390 km/h; 240 mph) at 3:28:10 as it descended through 1,650 feet (500 m).