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Thursday, January 22, 2009

$5,000 for each passenger on ditched jet

Engine in water crash might have been found

Image: Inspectors view jet
Rich Schultz / AP
NTSB inspectors examine the left wing of the US Airways Airbus jet as it sits on a barge in Jersey City, N.J. on Monday.

NEW YORK - Police and federal marine agents searching the Hudson River with sonar equipment for the left engine of US Airways Flight 1549 said Tuesday that they've found what appears to be an object of the same size.

The object is 16 feet long and 8 feet wide. It's in about 60 feet of water north of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum where boats resumed searching Tuesday.

The New York Police Department said the currents were too strong to put a robotic device into the murky water to confirm whether the object is the engine. Divers were in the water trying to examine the object for a few hours but suspended the search as darkness fell.

The Airbus A320 crash-landed in the Hudson last week after hitting birds and losing thrust in both engines. All 155 people on board survived. The rest of the plane was taken to a New Jersey marina over the weekend.

The airline has sent $5,000 checks to each of the 150 passengers to compensate them for lost luggage and other belongings.

In a letter sent to passengers, an airline executive said she was "truly sorry." The letter also explained that passengers' belongings left in the plane could be stuck with investigators for months.

The airline also said it would reimburse passengers for their ticket costs.

Earlier engine trouble
Investigators on Monday reported that the US Airways jetliner had experienced an engine compressor failure two days before the accident last week.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said the board's examination of the Airbus 320's maintenance records show "there was an entry in the aircraft's maintenance log that indicates a compressor stall occurred on Jan. 13." The compressor, or fan, draws air into the engine.

He said the flight had a different pilot that day, and the board planned to interview that pilot to learn more about the incident.

NTSB investigators so far have not uncovered "any anomalies or malfunctions with Flight 1549 from the time it left the gate at LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 15 to the point the pilot reported a birdstrike and loss of engine power," Knudson said. Pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was able to glide to plane to an emergency river landing and there were no fatalities.

CNN reported Monday that passengers on the Flight 1549 that left LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 13 reported hearing loud bangs followed by an announcement from the pilot that the aircraft was either returning to LaGuardia or going to try to land — there were differing accounts of the pilot's statements.

However, passengers said that a short time later the situation appeared to return to normal and the flight continued on to Charlotte, N.C., CNN said.

It's not unusual for a flight to continue on to its destination after a compressor stall if the engine returns to normal functioning.

Probe to last a year
The probe into the crash-landing of the US Airways jetliner will take a year, and the lessons learned from the spectacular accident will last much longer, Robert Benzon, a senior NTSB investigator, said.

"I think this one is going to be studied for decades," said Benzon, chief investigator on the case.

Benzon said the fact that all 155 people aboard the plane survived removes the guilt and finger-pointing that sometimes accompany aviation accidents. He said lessons learned from the successful ditching into the Hudson River could improve air safety.

"In one like this, I think there's potential for a lot of good to come out of it, long-term good," he said.

The airliner was at a New Jersey salvage yard Monday, where it was being guarded by company workers, federal investigators and New York City police.

"I was surprised at how intact the plane was," said James Marchioni, a manager at Weeks Marine in Jersey City, N.J. "There were some bottom panels that were damaged. Other than that, it looked pretty good."

Marchioni said the NTSB estimated it would take "a week or two" to disassemble the plane so the parts can be shipped to an undisclosed location for closer examination.

The search for the plane's missing left engine was suspended until Tuesday because ice floes in the river made it too dangerous to put divers or special sonar equipment in the water.

Sullenberger has been lauded for safely landing the plane in the frigid river after both engines shutdown less than two minutes after takeoff.

'Just doing our job'
President-elect Barack Obama said Monday he had spoken with the California pilot, who told him, "Me and my crew, we were just doing our job.'

"And it made me think, if everybody did their job — whatever that job was — as well as that pilot did his job, we'd be in pretty good shape," Obama said. Sullenberger, his crew and family were invited by Obama to attend Tuesday's inauguration.

The five-member crew, including three flight attendants, has been besieged for media interviews. The crew and the airline released separate statements Monday pleading for privacy.

The crew said they "wish to offer their sincere thanks and appreciation for the overwhelming support, praise and well wishes they have received from the public around the world since the events of last Thursday."

They said they are willing to do media interviews "when the time is right."

The airline said it was "extremely proud of the professional crew of Flight 1549," but said that it and union leaders would "determine when media interviews are appropriate."

The crew did speak with the NTSB, and Benzon said investigators would spend much time analyzing the crew's choices.