Pilot calm during plane splashdown into Hudson River

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Capt. Chesley Sullenberger has stayed out of the limelight since the accident and hasn't a lot about what happened that day. But the cockpit recordings reveal a man in control under extreme circumstances.

Most of the time, these recordings are of the last few minutes of a tragedy. In this case, everyone on the plane survived. Even though we know the ending, the recording is still fascinating and chilling at the same time.

The trouble started just after takeoff, when the aircraft reported it "hit birds" and "lost thrust in both engines."

Pilot calm during plane splashdown into Hudson River

Controllers handling the departure told the LaGuardia tower to stop departures because Flight 1549 is "returning immediately."

The pilot radios back less than 20 seconds later saying the plane can't make it back and "may end up in the Hudson."

Capt. Sullenberger matter-of-factly said his flight was in trouble. The controllers give him every option.

At that point the controller contacts the tower at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, requests a runway and then issues instructions for the plane to turn right, giving it a heading. The pilot replied, "We can't do it."

After the controller asked, "Which runway would you like at Teterboro?," the response is calm: "We're going to be in the Hudson."

The rest of the story is well documented. What's notable about the recordings is that no one sounded unusually panicked. All were very straight-forward and professional in their demeanor and actions. How is that possible with so much at stake?

Pilot calm during plane splashdown into Hudson River

Jed Ericksen, manager of Psychiatric Emergency Services at the University of Utah says experience and preparation were key. He said, "So when the event occurred, he wasn't doubting himself, he didn't have a lot of questions about ‘can I do this?.' He simply went into the mode of ‘I can do this, and I will."

Ericksen said a lot went right in this case. The pilot had enough time to get the plane to the river, he had lots of room, and no boats in the landing path.

From there, everyone involved, the pilots, crew and controllers knew exactly what to do. "But they do it well because they know their jobs. They're prepared. They've kind of rehearsed these kinds of eventualities, and they kind of go on ‘automatic pilot' and just take the steps that are necessary to succeed," said Ericksen.

As far as possible long-term effects, Ericksen said some of the people on the plane may struggle. But he said the people should face their anxiety, rather than avoid it. In other words, get back on the horse, or in this case, get back on a plane.

Pilot Chesley Sullenberger has told FAA investigators he ditched the plane because he didn't want to risk a catastrophic crash in a densely populated area. All 155 aboard survived.

E-mail: kmccord@ksl.com

(Copyright 2008 Bonneville International Corporation. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed. AP contributed to this report.) AP Rights & Restrictions

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Keith McCord and AP


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