Air traffic controller reflects on 10 years since 'Miracle on the Hudson'

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Tuesday marks a decade since the "Miracle on the Hudson."

On Jan. 15, 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 collided with birds just moments after taking off from LaGuardia Airport. Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger made the decision to land his flight on the Hudson River after the engines were knocked out by a bird strike. Sully was hailed a hero for saving all 155 people on board.

Patrick Harten says it was near the beginning of his shift as an air traffic controller based in Westbury when he got the radio call he will never forget. He says he heard Sully say, "Hit bird strike - lost thrust."

"He sounded very calm, which is a good thing," Harten says of Sully. "But when you hear that he lost thrust, basically the plane became a glider. So I knew that I was going to have to act quickly to help him resolve the situation."

Within seconds, Harten diverted planes from LaGuardia, and then freed up a runway at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey when Sully said he wouldn't make it back to Queens. Then he heard the plane would be going into the Hudson River.

Harten says he received a lot of emotional support from other air traffic controllers in Westbury, which helped him stay in "work mode" and not panic.

"The visceral reaction didn't happen until I said, 'Radar contact lost,'" he recalls. "That was the hard part."

But the plane landed without breaking apart and with everyone alive.

Col. Michael Canders, of Farmingdale State College's Aviation Center, says bird strikes still pose a threat, despite different methods of keeping wildlife and birds away from planes.

Harten says he's still friends with Sully and many passengers on the flight.

"Some of the passengers actually text me if they're flying in and out of LaGuardia if they're a little nervous," he says. "They want me to work their flight, so I'll do that for them...We are the 1549 family."

Harten flew to North Carolina ahead of a Tuesday ceremony marking the 10-year anniversary. It will be held at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, where the "Miracle" plane is now on display.


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