“Other than landing in the Hudson River, I have always wanted to come to Alaska and get a float rating,” said pilot Jeff Skiles.
Skiles was the first officer on the US Air Airbus flight that ditched into the Hudson River after hitting a flock of geese on Jan. 15, 2009 an incident referred to as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
Gathered in the Alaska Aviation Museum’s tent hangar nearly 60 people listened to pilot Jeff Skiles informed the membership about the history and progress of the Experimental Aircraft Association. The association has over 1000 chapters nationwide in U.S. of pilots and aircraft homebuilders.
Skiles and media producer Brady Lane talked of the chapters and what they have accomplished for the aviation organization and to attract more pilots into aviation.
Skiles was co-chairman of the Young Eagles program along with fellow pilot Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullinberger who landed the Airbus on the Hudson River. Skiles is now contributing a monthly column to the EAA publication Sport Aviation about his extensive flying career.
The EAA information led up to the story that EAA Chapter 42 members were waiting to hear, the events of the bird strike and the ensuing successful emergency landing on New York’s Hudson River.
“It was my turn to fly the aircraft, explained Skiles. The takeoff was normal and as we were climbing I saw the flock as we were ascending, just as fast as I saw them Sully said birds, then we heard the birds slamming against the wings and fuselage.
I immediately started to pitch the nose down when Sully said I have the aircraft, I acknowledged that he had control of the aircraft when we realized the engines were no longer producing power. At this point I went through the emergency procedure for restarting when the right engine was on fire.
This whole time Captain Sullenberger was flying the plane and discussing with ATC about landing at Teterboro. When I could finally see how far away it was, and was moving higher up the windscreen, it became clear that with buildings on one side of the river and houses on the other the only option was to land in the river.”
Giving a pilots professional account of the events Skiles continued.
“We had the flight crew prepare the cabin for an emergency landing and prepared for the approach the same as a normal landing but we wanted to make sure that the wings were completely level with the water and wanted to land slightly tail down to slow the aircraft in the water.
Once we were in the water the crew deployed the rafts and some of the passengers climbed out and stood on the wings…everything happened so fast that we were scrambling through the cabin grabbing seat cushions and handing them out as the plane’s tail was sinking. Eventually we were told to get into a raft and all I could think about was that the raft was attached to the aircraft by a rope, the plane was sinking and we needed to cut the rope to free ourselves. A tourist boat came close the aircraft and a crew hand on board threw me a knife and I cut the rope. The water was freezing but we made it over to the ship where we had to climb up a “Jacob’s ladder” made out of rope. Once onboard the boat we were hustled into the cabin where it was warm.”
While only one person, a flight attendant was injured, all passengers were rescued safely.After giving a professional overview of the event, Skiles then gave his personal emotional perspective.
“After being rescued we were taken to the hospital and checked out, given complete physicals even though we were not injured,” he said.
“The hospital was the only place that we could be away from reporters and the media, according to NTSB and other officials. After that we were taken to a hotel room and told to relax. After taking a long hot shower I couldn’t sleep so I put on my clothes and went for a walk around New York until early the next morning. The officials thought that they had lost me and were really excited about my being out of the hotel,” said Skiles.
“ It is a stunning awareness to realize that you have just emergency landed a jet full of passengers and survived. Thoughts of “what if” were bouncing around in my head, finally I had to come to terms with them, and settle with just how lucky we all are to have gotten out alive. I guess all that training really paid off in a pinch.” said Skiles.
Skiles and Lane were later treated to a full barbecue at a Lake Hood hangar of a Chapter 42 member hosted by a local group of Alaskan homebuilders.
Rob Stapleton can be reached at: robstapleton(at)Alaska.net