It’s the Miracle on the Hudson, when Captain Sully Sullenberger landed this plane safely in frigid water. But he now he tells Hank it took more than his skills to save lives that day. Hank uncovers the next flight you take may not have the safety equipment you’d expect. Hank Investigates.
It’s still heart stopping to watch-
Captain Sully Sullenberger: “We may be in the Hudson.”
Captain Sully Sullenberger, in the cockpit, was the one who called mayday for Flight 1549.
Captain Sullenberger: “We’re going into the Hudson.”
With amazing skill, Sullenberger ditches the plane. The passengers, some wearing life vests, escape onto the wings, and into these rafts. Everyone is safe.
Captain Sullenberger: “I’m so grateful that everyone involved rose to the occasion that day.”
But the captain told me there’s another reason for the miracle on the Hudson..
See the life rafts? And the life vests? That’s safety equipment that flight was not federally required to have.
Captain Sullenberger: “And that was just by chance.”
By chance? Yes.
Federal regulations only require life vests and life rafts on “extended overwater” flights, more than 50 nautical miles from shore. Over land flights like 1549, which was headed from LaGuardia to Charlotte, are not required to have them!
But experts warn, though safety demos and videos may mention life vests and rafts, passengers should know, that doesn’t mean your flight has them. You may only have your seat cushion for flotation.
Passenger: “It concerns me a lot.”
Passenger: “Oh my gosh that’s surprising.”
Captain Sullenberger: “They should be surprised, they should be concerned, When I get on a plane, I look under my seat to see if theres a life vest there.”
There’s more. Those over land flights are also only required to have these inflatable evacuation slides, which are designed for emergency landings on the ground.
When used in water, passengers must first jump in, and then hold on. Flight 1549 just happened to have these life rafts, and that’s all that kept passengers out of the frigid Hudson.
Captain Sullenberger: “If the airplane we used on Flight 1549 had only evacuation slides more people would have ended up in the water, immersed in the very cold water. We would have had people perish, without a doubt.”
After 1549, Sullenberger warned things should change, so did the National Transportation Safety Board. Sully called for life rafts on every aircraft,
and NTSB investigators recommended life vests on every flight. But that never happened.
Federal regulations still say: Each individual airline can decide whether to supply the vests and rafts.
Jason Fedok, NTSB Investigator, Flight 1549: “Passengers need to be aware of this and expect the unexpected.”
The industry trade association told us their member airlines “comply with all federal safety regulations…to maintain the highest levels of safe and efficient transportation.”
But if you’re haunted this, Captain Sullenberger is, too.
Captain Sullenberger: “And what that means for the average traveler is when you get on an airplane, you are unwillingly and unwittingly playing life-raft roulette but it’s not a game, and with real lives at stake.”
So what safety equipment is on your flight? The only way to know is ask when you board.
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