Miracle on the Hudson: How Stevens Provided Key Data During a Famous Airline Near-Disaster
The 2009 emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River is an event that will forever be etched into the memory of the nation. The Stevens campus, overlooking the river from the New Jersey side, offered jaw-dropping views that January day as the plane landed, passengers deplaned and rescue craft rushed to the scene.
The 150 passengers, three flight attendants, first officer and pilot Chesley Sullenberger all survived the crash landing, with only five serious injuries to treat; remarkable, given that the Hudson’s waters were just 19 degrees Fahrenheit at the time. As passengers evacuated onto the aircraft’s wings, the river’s currents began to carry the downed plane downstream.
That’s when Stevens sprang into action.
Alan Blumberg, then a professor of civil, environmental and ocean engineering and director of the university’s Davidson Laboratory, saw an opportunity to lend a helping hand. Blumberg, an expert in the flow of ocean currents with extensive experience on the Hudson, normally applied his expertise to extreme weather events such as hurricanes, storm surges and floods. But on this day, he used Stevens ingenuity to help local first responders rescue evacuees from a sinking plane.
First Blumberg contacted the New York City Office of Emergency Management’s (OEM) Watch Commander, Michael Lee, with a detailed summary of the water conditions and a 48-hour forecast around the crash site. That summary was based on ocean sensors in the waters of New York and New Jersey and Stevens-developed forecast models. The report included information on water temperature and speed, surface conditions, and tide flows.
“Nobody else had this extremely important information to aid in the rescue,” Lee noted later.
Once all passengers had been retrieved from the plane, Blumberg and his team continued to work, recommending the plane be towed downstream in the direction of the Statue of Liberty, where waters in the estuary were calmest on that particular day. The partially submerged plane was indeed eventually secured to a pier about four miles downriver from where it had initially touched down. Throughout salvaging operations, Stevens researchers continued to provide on-call assistance to emergency agencies until the crisis was fully resolved.
“The contribution and professionalism of the men and women of Stevens who assisted our team during the initial hours and days after the accident was critical to our ability to conduct a thorough and timely accident investigation,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), later.
It was just another example of Stevens meeting a real-world challenge, in real time, with technology and human insight.