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A moment of crisis

January 16, 2009 12:24:19 PM PST
We can talk about it, but until it happens, until we're face-to-face with a crisis or emergency, a life-or-death situation, we simply don't know how we'll react.

We hope we'll be ready, and calm, and make the right decisions.

The people on board that U.S. Airways plane that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River -- "on" the river is more accurate -- were ready. And they were calm. And they made the right decisions.

Certainly the two pilots did. And talk about leadership starting at the top and flowing downhill -- when you have two people at the helm who keep the plane intact, bring it to a buoyant rest, and direct the emergency exodus onto the wings -- well, it's just a remarkable story.

We sprang into action shortly after 3:30 yesterday. We received a report of a plane in the Hudson. At first, the NYPD dispatcher put out the all-clear - it was just a movie shoot. No real disaster.

There was a collective laugh in the newsroom. Relief more than anything.

That feeling lasted about 30 seconds.

It's not life-or-death, but our job is to be ready, remain calm, and make the right decisions. We usually succeed.

It's always better to cover a disaster in which no one dies. And somehow, yesterday, no one died.

Much has been made of pilot Chesley B. (Sully) Sullenberger III, and co-pilot Jeff Skiles.

Neither has talked yet -- to the NTSB or to reporters. But today Sullenberger's wife described him as "a pilot's pilot" -- always calm.

He made the right moves yesterday after his Airbus 320 apparently ran into one, two, or several birds, mostly likely Canada Geese. The 12-pound-bird hitting a plane that's flying at 150 miles an hour is, according to The New York Times, equal to a 1,000-pound weight dropped to the ground from 10-feet up.

Which is to say it's dramatic.

Birds are a big problem for planes. In the past eight years, nearly 500 commercial planes in the U.S. Have collided with birds --- 166 have resulted in emergency landings, 66 in aborted takeoffs.

So the beasts have an impact.

And one more thing about Capt. Sullenberger. 57-year-old Capt. Sullenberger. In this era of pushing youth and dismissing people with experience as too costly, let's hoist a glass to Sully, who proved there's no substitution for experience and notches on your belt.

Tonight at 11, we'll have the latest on the survivors -- and all 155 on board qualify! -- and on the investigation into how this happened, including what happened to the plane's left engine, which is apparently missing in the Hudson.

It is tempting to call it a "crash" -- it's the common phrase; but it's wrong. I've said it, although I try not to, thanks to the not-so-gentle reminder of a friend who is a licensed pilot. He constantly emailed during our coverage yesterday, correcting our use of the word. This was a "ditch" - and an emergency water landing. Had it been a "crash," the plane would have been broken, and quite possibly many people killed.

The pilots glided this plane in - -they didn't crash it.

We will try our best to avoid the word.

What an interesting juxtaposition at the official City news conference about the emergency landing. Mayor Bloomberg, and his top Commissioners, were there. So was Gov. David Paterson. And it's the comparison between Bloomberg and Paterson that's interesting. The Mayor, an experienced private pilot, was matter-of-fact; he made a big deal out of not having any idea what caused the engines to fail, despite reports from the Transportation Secretary that the NTSB's initial thinking was that a bird, or birds, flew into the engines. But the Mayor wouldn't lend a drop of credence to it.

Which is fine, except that the bird theory was widely offered by experts.

By contrast, the Governor managed to capture the emotional moment. And in fact it was he who coined the "miracle on the Hudson" line that became the banner for most of the TV coverage. It was the emotional connection that separated Paterson. And it was oh-so evident.

Lost in the chaos of yesterday was the Mayor's State of the City address, during which he announced a rather ambitious plan to create 400,000 new jobs over the next six years. This despite the recession and that construction has ground to a relative halt in Manhattan, at least compared to the pre-recession boom. And how could it be otherwise? Banks aren't lending. Builders aren't building. Companies aren't leasing new space.

Just one string attached to Bloomberg's plan: He'll have to be Mayor for it to happen.

At least that's his point.

Also lost was Pres. Bush's farewell address, in a 13-minute prime-time TV speech.

We covered it last night at 11 - but it hardly got the play it would have had we not had breaking news.

Speaking of the recession, the economy claimed another retail victim today. Circuit City, already in reorganization bankruptcy, is now going out of business. Liquidating. The nation's second biggest electronics chain will close its remaining 567 stores.

30,000 workers, millions of customers, and thousands of creditors - all out of luck.

And finally, nothing like a little free money to lure the hungry. Money hungry. Yet another company today getting the green light from the Federal Reserve to become a bank. The Protective Life Corp. from Alabama - which, as the name implies is a life insurance company - is now a bank holding company, and therefore eligible for some of the free taxpayer money getting doled out by the federal government. It joins a list of better-known companies that have done the same thing, including American Express and GMAC Financial.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's frigid AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

PS: Come Monday, I'll be filing from Washington, D.C., and Barack Obama's inauguration.


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