Behind the Headlines

Examining the Plane Crash

How many hours do you have as a pilot?" Dr. Phil asks Doug.

"Eighteen thousand," he replies.

"Have you ever ditched?"

"No," Doug says. "We'll go through the scenario of what to do, but we don't practice the actual crash."

Dr. Phil shows an animation of the plane's descent. "Are these airplanes supposed to be able to take birds into the engine?" he says.

"They can take birds, but not that many," Doug answers.

"This was, like, a 15-pound Canadian goose, and probably more than one, right?" Dr. Phil replies, referring to the birds that collided with Flight 1549.

"Obviously," Doug answers. " Probably more than one in both engines."

"What happens in the cockpit, pilot-wise, when these birds hit that engine?"

"There's a big noise, just a very loud explosion, probably fire bells," Doug says. He says upon impact, the pilot must think quickly. "Fly first, analyze the situation, take the proper action."

Doug outlines the next steps the pilot would take. "He's going to run the checklist. He's got to shut the engines down before you can restart them. There's a display in front of both pilots on the checklist, what to do."

"How long does it take to get through that checklist?"

"A long time," Doug says. "Ten minutes to get everything done on that checklist."

"How long before impact?"

"They had three minutes."

"Then a terrain warning is going to come as they cross the bridge by only 900 feet, very, very close to the bridge," Dr. Phil says, pointing to his animation. "Then we're going to hear a pull-up sound."

"He has control of the airplane, everything except the thrust," Doug adds.

"He clears the bridge, and then he starts to hear this sound," Dr. Phil says. "Why did this airplane float?"

"They're designed to float. Just as they are pressurized, they're airtight," Doug says.

"There probably wasn't a lot of fuel on the plane for a short run, right?"

"Right. Just down to Charlotte. You would have been two-thirds full of fuel."

"How important is it that people, pilots like yourself, saw this happen?"

"Very helpful, just to know it's possible," Doug replies. "That hasn't been done before, successfully like this."

Dr. Phil observes that not all plane crashes over water have a happy ending. "It was 27 years to the week that Air Florida Flight 90 hit the 14th Street Bridge and went into the Potomac and killed just about everybody on board. So this can go badly," he says. "I think one of the most impressive things about [Flight 1549] was the fact that the flight attendants had the presence of mind, the organizational and leadership skills to get 155 people off of an airplane that has just crashed in a river, and not one fatality."