Some passengers screamed, others tucked their heads between their knees, and several prayed over and over, “Lord, forgive me for my sins.”
By landing successfully on water, the captain "achieved one of the rarest and most technically challenging feats in commercial aviation,“ A board member of the NTSB stated that it "has to go down as the most successful ditching in aviation history."
Flight Attendant Sheila Dail , age 57, joined US Airways (Piedmont Airlines) in 1980 and has more than 28 years experience with the airline. Flight Attendant Doreen Welsh , age 58, joined US Airways (Allegheny Airlines) in 1970 and has more than 38 years experience with the airline. Flight Attendant Donna Dent , age 51, joined US Airways (Piedmont Airlines) in 1982 and has more than 26 years experience with the airline. Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger, III , age 58, joined US Airways (PSA Airlines) in 1980. He has a total of 19,663 flight hours. First officer Jeffrey B. Skiles , age 49, joined US Airways (USAir) in 1986. He has a total of 15,643 flight hours.
A flight attendant broke a leg, but most people were unharmed except for suffering from the cold. Ferries rescued passengers from the wings, where they stood in 20 degree Fahrenheit weather, their feet dipping into water of 41 degrees F.
As the plane began sinking, Sullenberger walked the aisle twice to make sure no one was left behind, Bloomberg said.
There was the woman in a fur coat who asked a stranger to go back inside the sinking plane to fetch her purse.
Inside, as if heeding one collective thought, everyone moved to the rear of the cabin, only to find the exit doors there locked tight and water rising as the tail dipped below the surface. “ If that door opened, everything would go under,” said Brad Wentzell, 31, a patio-door salesman from Charlotte
"The bulk of this event was over in 10 minutes," said Raymond Kelly, New York police commissioner.
Three minutes after the first alert, police had commandeered a Circle Line boat that only minutes before was taking sightseers on a leisurely tour of New York's landmarks. The officers directed it toward the sinking plane.
"After the crash, the pilot was sitting in the ferry terminal, wearing his hat, sipping his coffee and acting like nothing happened," one police source told the New York Daily News.
The last person to leave the plane was Sullenberger. As he boarded a ferry he clutched a clipboard with the list of passengers.
Within five minutes of the call a police helicopter was also hovering above the scene. A detective, a trained diver, was lowered into the frigid water. He swam to a disoriented female passenger clinging to the side of a ferry and helped her to safety on another boat.
His gray hair was unruffled, and his blue pilot’s uniform had barely a wrinkle. “ His tie wasn’t even loosened,” said Ed Skyler, a deputy mayor of New York City
The pilot is a boon for an airline that has filed for bankruptcy twice in recent years and has been plagued by publicity nightmares. Two Christmases ago, US Airways lost 75,000 bags, some not found for months. Last year it became the first airline to charge for coffee, tea and bottled water.