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Published: Sunday, 1/18/2009

Fuel drained from US Airways jetliner to prepare for move across Hudson

ASSOCIATED PRESS
The ruins of what was US Airways Flight 1549 lays on a barge in the Hudson River. The plane will be moved to a New Jersey site, where it can be examined further. The ruins of what was US Airways Flight 1549 lays on a barge in the Hudson River. The plane will be moved to a New Jersey site, where it can be examined further.
AP Enlarge

NEW YORK Investigators drained fuel Sunday from the right wing tank of the jetliner that made a safe emergency landing in the Hudson River, preparing to move the plane to a secure facility in New Jersey.

The US Airways jet, hoisted from the river late Saturday, was atop a barge moored to a seawall at the southern tip of Manhattan, just blocks from the World Trade Center site.

Its two black box data recorders were sent to investigators in Washington, and officials with the National Federal investigators say the flight data recorder of the US Airways jet that made a safe emergency landing in the Hudson River shows the aircraft reached a maximum altitude of 3,200 feet and lost power simultaneously in both engines.

Kitty Higgins of the National Transportation Safety Board also says that floes in the river are slowing the search for the missing engine. It s believed to have separated from the crippled aircraft as the plane crash-landed in the river Thursday afternoon.

Officials refused to say where in New Jersey the plane would be taken when it is towed away, saying investigators wanted to do their work undisturbed. Any decision on whether to release the waterlogged luggage to passengers would come from the airline, they said.

Although the area was barricaded, the spectacle became something of a tourist attraction over the weekend, attracting hundreds of residents and tourists who snapped pictures of the wreckage.

Kelsey Higginbotham, a 20-year-old student at East Tennessee State University, was peering at the crippled aircraft Sunday from behind police barricades during a weekend of sightseeing in New York City with a friend.

They went to Times Square, Central Park, and Ground Zero, where nearly 3,000 people were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. She was struck by the contrast between one disaster where so many people died and another where everyone survived.

It s a miracle, she said. I guess New Yorkers can t take any more tragedy.

US Airways Capt. Chesley B. Sully Sullenberger, who was hailed as a hero for his cool work landing the jet in the river, spoke to NTSB investigators Saturday for the first time.

If the NTSB perceives that we are in any way compromising the objectivity of the investigation by innocuously releasing information to the media, our status will be rescinded, and we will be unable to help determine the causal factors leading up to this very positive and well-documented outcome, he said.

Mr. Sullenberger released a statement through a family spokesperson, Alex Clemens, saying the family was deferring to the advice of the pilots association.

The Sullenbergers continue to thank their many well-wishers for the incredible outpouring of support, the statement said.

An investigator peers into the right engine of the hulk that was US Airways Flight 1549 as it sets on a barge Sunday in the Hudson River. An investigator peers into the right engine of the hulk that was US Airways Flight 1549 as it sets on a barge Sunday in the Hudson River.
KATHY WILLENS / AP Enlarge

He had been scheduled to give his first public interview on Monday morning to NBC Today show host Matt Lauer, but the appearance was canceled Sunday at the request of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association.

Stephen Bradford, president of the pilots association, which represents the pilots on Flight 1549, said he had asked Mr. Sullenberger not to engage in any media activities for the time being. He said this was because the pilots association has interested party status with the NTSB which allows it to participate in the investigation.

Divers still have to find the plane s left engine in the river, but have an idea where to look. A sonar team identified an object directly below the crash site, upstream between mid-Manhattan and New Jersey, the NTSB said.

Investigators initially thought both engines had been shorn off, but divers realized Saturday one was still attached and they had missed it in the murky river water.

The NTSB said radar data confirmed that the aircraft crossed the path of a group of primary targets, almost certainly birds, as Flight 1549 climbed over the Bronx after taking off from LaGuardia.

Those targets had not been on the radar screen of the air traffic controller who approved the departure to Charlotte, NTSB board member Kitty Higgins said Saturday.

Barrett Byrnes, who spent 35 years as an air traffic controller and worked at JFK Airport before retiring a few months ago, said controllers at LaGuardia and New York Terminal Radar Approach Control in Westbury, N.Y., told him that there was a radar return, or blip, at some point during takeoff.

He said the return was not passed along to the pilots of Flight 1549 because it was unidentified, as are many radar returns or blips.

I was told there was raw data that came back with associated stuff, but they couldn t differentiate whether it was birds, said Mr. Byrnes, who added that he last spoke to some of the controllers Saturday.

He said the radar blips, unless they are planes with transponders, are difficult to identify and sometimes are nothing at all. He said controllers wouldn t necessarily pass along information about a radar return unless there was something specific that they could identify.

If you have pilot reports that say a flock of birds is north of a bridge, you pass that along to everybody, but if you don t have those pilot reports and are just getting unreliable information as far as radar returns, then you could be using information that nothing exists there, Mr. Byrnes said.



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