In the documentaries, and in the texts about the US Airways Flight 1549 ("The Miracle on Hudson"), procedures and checklists are mentioned and shown as a good example.

What procedures were they following in that case, and what could have gone wrong if they were not followed?


2 Answers 2


17 seconds after bird impact, they used the "QRH Engine Dual Failure checklist" as per the NTSB report at:


Even though the engines did not experience a total loss of thrust, the Engine Dual Failure checklist was the most applicable checklist contained in the US Airways QRH, which was developed in accordance with the Airbus QRH, to address the accident event because it was the only checklist that contained guidance to follow if an engine restart was not possible and if a forced landing or ditching was anticipated (starting from 3,000 feet). However, according to postaccident interviews and CVR data, the flight crew did not complete the Engine Dual Failure checklist, which had 3 parts and was 3 pages long. Although the flight crewmembers were able to complete most of part 1 of the checklist, they were not able to start parts 2 and 3 of the checklist because of the airplane’s low altitude and the limited time available.

The "procedure" that the captain followed was the mantra taught to student pilots very early in their training: aviate, navigate, communicate. The ultimate priority in all flight circumstances is to first fly the aircraft. By realizing that 1) continued flight was impossible, 2) attempting to restart the engines was futile, and 3) deviating to the softest and least congested improvised landing site was necessary, in fact in these circumstances the best possible option, the captain saved his own life and the lives of his crew and passengers.

The captain was almost a 20,000 hour pilot at the time of that accident and the first officer had accumulated over 15,000 hours of pilot time. This cannot be understated. This was an extremely experienced flight crew.

In many years of dealing with imminently life-or-death circumstances, I have seen two categories of people: those who act and those who freeze. Obviously, the crew in this situation was composed of people in the former category. That is the category in which I place myself, but thus far almost all of the life-or-death circumstances I have faced have been ones I have trained heavily to mitigate. My actions have been almost reflexive based upon that training, but in my craft I am also well over the 10,000 hour mark.

The ultimate answer to your underlying question of how did this flight end successfully is the right kind of experience of the flight crew, and this cannot be summarized in a checklist or procedure. They knew how to fly. They intimately knew the systems of their aircraft. Most importantly, they worked together as a team to accomplish the mission even though that mission had changed significantly since the time when they were cleared for takeoff.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Most importantly, they worked together as a team" – They were indeed well-trained in Crew Resource Management, which is widely heralded as a major reason for the positive outcome of this incident. In fact, Captain Sullenberger introduced CRM at his former employer and developed CRM procedures and CRM training. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 9:33

The A320 "non-normal notes" state the following:

If time is short due to loss of thrust at low altitude, a “quick“ ditching procedure is available on the back of the normal checklist. This procedure gives you a suitable configuration for ditching (CONF 2, Gear up) and a table for determining a suitable approach speed given your gross weight. It also instructs that the APU be started, the ditching button be pushed, provides guidance for the flare (minimise VS, attitude 11°) and provides instructions for shutting down the engines and APU on touchdown (all masters off).

The ditching performed by flight 1549 would be considered a quick ditch, though there was some debate over this fact and, resultingly, whether the correct procedure was followed. If time had permitted, the crew would have completed a procedure similar to this one in the QRH:

enter image description here

Since there was probably not time to pull that book out and leaf through it, the (arguably) correct action was to work the forced landing / ditching procedures on the back of the normal checklist which will include the details quoted above.

Note that I've tried to provide the Airbus manual here. The exact checklists usually vary from airline to airline and airlines will often publish their own QRH as well. I don't know for sure which checklists or handbooks were present in the A320 involved in that incident but chances are they had at least nearly the same content as the Airbus variant.

I don't yet have an answer to what could go wrong but I'll get that a bit later. One thing off the top of my head is that if the pilot had not activated the much-celebrated ditch switch then the plane would likely have flooded faster and maybe there would not have been time to evacuate.

  • $\begingroup$ I've been trying to find the date the first version of the non-normal notes were written. Were they written before 1549, or because of? $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ @CGCampbell I was curious also but haven't been able to find a good answer to that. Here's my pure speculation: These sorts of documents are created before the plane is delivered to customers. Aircraft notes are generally updated throughout the life of the plane. There have certainly be updates to the document since the ditching so it would be interesting to know if there have been any updates because of the ditching. $\endgroup$
    – user28387
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ There were reports at the time that the ditch switch was never activated. It seems to have worked out just fine though. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the ditching section pictured here is on the third page of the Engine Dual Failure Checklist. They never got past page 1. I’m certain the “quick ditching” procedure was created in response to 1549. From the NTSB report: “Airbus had not considered developing a checklist for use at a low altitude, when limited time is available before ground or water impact. Discussions with A320 operators and a manufacturer also indicated that low-altitude, dual-engine failure checklists are not readily available in the industry.” A shorter checklist for this situation was one of the recommendations $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 23:25

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