'Sorry, say again': Hudson landing stuns air controller

Posted at 02/06/09 10:09 PM

NEW YORK - If confirmation was needed about Chesley Sullenberger's calm in a crisis, it came in the transcript of his conversation with traffic controllers as he landed his plane in the Hudson River.

"We're gonna be in the Hudson," the US Airways captain told LaGuardia airport.

It was the air traffic controllers who reacted with disbelief.

"I'm sorry say again cactus," came the reply, according to transcripts released Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The rest is history, turning Sullenberger into a hero around the world.

The Airbus A-320 hit birds as it took off from LaGuardia on January 15, knocking out both engines. Sullenberger calmly landed the crippled jet -- codenamed Cactus fifteen forty nine by air traffic control -- into the icy Hudson River.

All 150 passengers and five crew climbed out onto the wings of the sinking jet and were quickly rescued by New York ferry boats.

The jet had just taken off from LaGuardia when the suspected collision with Canadian geese knocked out both engines.

Pilot: "Ah this is uh cactus fifteen thirty-nine, hit birds, we lost thrust in both engines, we're turning back towards LaGuardia."

The controller halted other take-offs to prepare for an emergency landing.

Controller: "We got an emergency returning, he had bird strike, he lost the engines and he wants to return immediately."

Then Sullenberger has to tell them he cannot make it back to the New York airport. "We are unable, we may end up in the Hudson."

He quickly asked about a possible landing at nearby Teterboro airport in New Jersey, then decides "we can't do it."

After a quick exchange the controllers are heard to say: "I think he said he is going to the Hudson."

Sullenberger made a perfect landing, captured in new film released from security cameras that show how the jet eased onto the river, avoiding a devastating break-up upon impact.

The pilot has become an instant American hero, feted at the American Football Super Bowl final at the weekend and a guest of honor at President Barack Obama's inauguration.