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In this blog post How Many Lives Did Sully Sullenberger Save, we’ll look at the total number of passengers and crew aboard Flight 1549 that Sully was able to rescue from almost certain tragedy through his heroic actions that day.
On January 15, 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully executed an emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River after both engines lost thrust due to bird strikes. This remarkable feat of aviation skill and composure has gone down in history as the “Miracle on the Hudson.” But just how Many Lives Did Sully Sullenberger Save through his quick thinking and masterful piloting?
Recapping the Miracle on the Hudson
First, let’s recap the chain of events that comprise this incredible true story:
- On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport en route to Charlotte, North Carolina.
- The Airbus A320 was under the command of seasoned pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles.
- Two minutes after takeoff at an altitude of 2800 feet, the Airbus flew through a flock of geese causing both engines to lose thrust.
- With no power, the plane could not make it to any nearby runway for an emergency landing.
- Facing this crisis, Sully took the exceptionally rare move of ditching the crippled jetliner in the Hudson River.
- In just 208 seconds between the bird strike and water impact, Sully glided the powerless plane skillfully to minimize damage.
- After smoothly hitting the water, the crew evacuated all passengers onto the wings within minutes before the plane started sinking.
- Nearby ferries and coast guard vessels immediately rushed to the scene and pulled everyone to safety.
Thanks to Sully’s incredible efforts, all aboard survived this near-disaster subsequently dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson.” So how many lives did Sully save that fateful day?
Read also: When Did Sully Land in the Hudson
How Many Lives Did Sully Sullenberger Save Aboard US Airways Flight 1549
According to the passenger manifest and crew records, there were a total of 155 people on board US Airways Flight 1549 when it took off from LaGuardia Airport that day:
- 150 passengers
- 5 crew members
This included men, women, adults, children, Infants, and the elderly aboard the Charlotte-bound flight. Some were traveling alone while others were in groups or pairs. A typical mix of travelers for a domestic flight.
Thankfully due to Sully’s skillful water landing, not a single life was lost as all 155 people successfully evacuated from the sinking Airbus A320.
Breakdown of Passengers and Crew Saved
Here is a more detailed breakdown of the 155 souls aboard the “Miracle on the Hudson” flight that Sully was able to save:
- 58 passengers seated in first class on the Airbus A320
- 92 passengers seated in the economy/coach section
- 2 flight attendants assigned to the forward section
- 2 flight attendants assigned to the rear section
- 1 pilot – Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger
- 1 co-pilot – First Officer Jeffrey Skiles
- 48 adult men
- 51 adult women
- 18 teenagers
- 21 children
- 12 infants/toddlers
- 4 female flight attendants
- 2 male pilots
The remarkable feat of safety resulted in no casualties despite men, women, children, babies, and elderly being aboard.
Other Key Facts About Flight 1549
Here are some other key statistics to give further perspective on just how catastrophic this incident could have been:
- Departed at 3:24 PM from New York’s LaGuardia Airport
- Flight time was scheduled for 2 hours and 16 minutes
- Approximate flight distance was 954 miles between New York and Charlotte
- The maximum capacity of the A320 is 185 passengers and crew
- Took off in good weather conditions and light winds
- The approximate airspeed at the time of the bird strike was over 200 knots
- Cabin interior height of only 5 feet 7 inches
Given it was a routine domestic flight full of passengers, on a clear calm day, Sully’s skill as a pilot was the only thing that averted tragedy and saved all 155 lives that day.
How Passenger Bracing Positions Helped
Part of successfully evacuating all passengers safely was getting them into bracing positions for the imminent water impact.
Sully quickly and calmly instructed everyone to brace as the Hudson rapidly approached during the powerless glide. Passengers assumed the protective tuck positions.
By bracing, the risk of injury from the jarring water landing is reduced. Being prepared helped secure a controlled evacuation. This further contributed to preventing any loss of life.
Could All Passengers Swim?
An interesting question raised was how many Flight 1549 passengers could even swim given the water landing.
In reality, swimming ability was irrelevant in this case. The controlled ditching allowed the Airbus to stay buoyant and afloat long enough for nearby vessels to effect speedy rescues.
No passengers ended up needing to swim or be in the water for more than a few minutes. Survival depended on the well-executed landing and timely emergency response more than swimming capabilities.
So Sully’s landing precision ensured passengers only needed to initially climb onto the wings rather than try to swim, which maximized the chances of rescue.
What If Sully Had Turned Around?
Some scenarios speculate that if Sully had turned around and tried limping the Airbus A320 back to LaGuardia Airport, would it have changed the outcome?
Aviation experts thoroughly analyzed this option and found there was simply not enough altitude and time to turn around and glide the total distance back with both engines inoperable.
Attempting that maneuver would have likely resulted in a crash into a densely populated area on the ground. Therefore, Sully’s swift choice to ditch in the Hudson gave the best odds of survival in a no-win situation.
Could More Passengers Have Been Aboard?
US Airways Flight 1549 took off at about 3:24 PM on a weeknight, so the passenger load was typical and not at full capacity.
The Airbus A320 has a maximum occupant limit of 185. Had the flight been full during a peak travel period, the risks of evacuating successfully may have increased.
But Sully still likely would have made the same decisions and successfully ditched the fully loaded plane to save lives. His extensive training made it second nature to act on the best option to preserve safety no matter the conditions.
Sully’s Experience Made This Achievement Possible
Sully’s lifetime of experience spanning nearly 50 years as an Air Force and commercial pilot trained him on how to handle emergency scenarios and ditchings.
This made Sully’s challenging split-second judgment call and highly technical landing achievable when years of muscle memory and skills could take over in the face of crisis.
His vast piloting expertise culminated that day in saving 155 lives through sheer talent, composure, and repetition of prior training. Only lifelong preparation enabled such a feat.
Final Thoughts on This Aviation Miracle
Thanks to the experience and grace under the pressure of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, 155 total lives aboard US Airways Flight 1549 were saved when disaster was imminent.
Of the 150 passengers ranging from babies to the elderly, plus the 5 crew members, everyone miraculously survived the harrowing emergency water landing intact.
Sully’s aviation instincts, skill, and fearless decision-making while weighing life and death enabled him to avert tragedy for all aboard. His lifetime of training for such an incredibly rare event equipped Sully to be the right person in the right place when it mattered most.
The “Miracle on the Hudson” exemplifies how one individual’s actions can completely alter the outcome for an entire group. Sully Sullenberger fully embodied the responsibilities of pilot-in-command that fateful January day.