Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor reflects on 'Miracle on the Hudson'

Professor credits skilled pilot, training for successful emergency landing

On the 10th anniversary of the "Miracle on the Hudson," a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University spoke to News 6 about the lessons learned in the aviation industry.

On Jan. 15, 2009, pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was forced to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River when two 8-pound geese flew into each of the plane's twin engines.  All 154 passengers and crew on board US Airways Flight 1549 survived.

"The crew made great decisions," Les Westbrooks, associate professor of aeronautical science,  said. "They executed it well and they deserve all the credit in the world."

Bird strikes are a common occurrence for pilots, but what was extremely uncommon was the catastrophic engine failure.

"Engines fail, but the likelihood of a dual engine failure is extremely rare," Westbrooks said.

In the years since, emerging technology has tried to tackle the ongoing issue of bird collisions, but one of the most effective measures has been wildlife management near airports.

With the industry facing a nearly impossible task of achieving zero bird strikes, Westbrooks said proper training is the best measure to assure pilot safety.

"We practice this in the simulators and the simulators are incredibly accurate," Westbrooks said. "It's almost muscle memory that whenever you are faced with an event such as this, that you're not panicking and thinking about all the bad things that can happen to you. You just do your job."

Part of the training at Embry-Riddle includes power-off landings at the runway and in designated open fields, which is part of the same training every airline pilot completes.

As many continue looking back on the "Miracle on the Hudson," Westbrooks said it was an amazing effort on the part of Sullenberger, but the credit should also go much further.

"This wasn't just the act of an individual," Westbrooks said. "It was the act of an entire community that trains for this and has been training for this."

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