On Thursday night investigators are trying to determine if bird strikes caused the plane to go down.
Less than a minute after take-off from LaGuardia, veteran pilot Chesley Sullenberger told air traffic controllers that his airbus 320 had just had two bird strikes. His engines were losing thrust. He wanted to return to LaGuardia. But it quickly became apparent that was not an option.
Sullenberger chose to use the Hudson River as his runway. He told his passengers, "brace for impact," and he set it down.
"That's when everyone started -to be honest - saying prayers. We looked over the water and we thought we had a chance, there was water. Got to give it to the pilot. It was a hell of a landing," said Jay Kolodjay, rescued passenger.
Flight 1549 for Charlotte flew north over Manhattan, then took a left turn and headed down the Hudson. Sullenberger kept the plane aloft long enough to give passengers precious seconds to prepare.
After its water landing, the aircraft stayed afloat, moving in the Hudson current as its life-jacketed passengers lined the wings waiting for rescue. And the rescuers came - water taxis, fireboats, Coast Guard. Some of the passengers had to jump in the water briefly and were later treated for hypothermia, but there were no serious injuries.
"It would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure that everybody got out," said New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Commercial pilot Doug Willey says with all Sullenberger had on his hands, his actions were indeed, masterful.
"What he's doing now is he is configuring the airplane...He wants to get the airplane as slow as he can and still maintain control of the aircraft. That's what he is thinking, how I got to figure the airplane, I got to slow it down and I got to touch it down just right," said Willey.
Captain Chesly Sullenberger has flown for U.S. Air for nearly 30 years. He's been a local safety chairman for the airline pilots association, and has helped the NTSB in its investigations of some previous airline crashes. He knows his job and his duty as a captain. With his plane sitting in the Hudson and his passengers waiting for rescue, Sullenberger walked the inside of his plane twice to make sure everyone got out okay.
Bird strike history
Bird strikes are fairly common and the problem is getting worse.
In 1990 there were fewer than 2,000. By 2007 aircraft collided with birds more than 7,000.
Aside from the obvious danger, bird strikes cost airlines nearly $500 million a year in damages and delays.
"One hit the windscreen right in front of my face. My natural reaction was to duck and I'm the pilot flying. I said 'I'm down'. The captain took the airplane and we continued the takeoff," said Bob Chapman, pilot.
United pilot Bob Chapman and his plane survived that incident. And the five crewmembers of this cargo plane survived after a bird strike took down their plane in Brussels last year.
And just two years ago home video captured a United 767 on fire after a flock of birds hit the jet's engines. The plane also made it back safely to O'Hare and no one was hurt.
It is a circumstance that crews train for in flight simulators.
It is that kind of training that may have saved lives on the plane that went down in New York on Thursday while airports step up efforts to keep wildlife away.
From explosive charges to dogs that chase birds away and many other measures airports are doing what they can. But wildlife is attracted to airports.
"Areas around airports have all been developed. They're not out in the country anymore so the airport is the biggest piece of green space available for birds to go," said Richard Dolbeer, wildlife expert.
ABC7 is told that there are three full time wildlife biologists at O'Hare and one at Midway. O'Hare officials say that since they began a new program seven years ago the number of damaging wildlife strikes from birds and other animals has gone down.