It wasn’t until about 90 seconds before we hit the water that I spoke to the passengers.
I wanted to be very direct. I didn’t want to sound agitated or alarmed. I wanted to sound professional.
“This is the captain. Brace for impact!”
The flight attendants—Sheila Dail, Donna Dent, and Doreen Walsh—immediately fell back on their training. They shouted their commands: “Brace, brace! Heads down! Stay down! Brace, brace! Heads down! Stay down!” Hearing their words comforted and encouraged me. Their direction and professionalism would be keys to our survival, and I had faith in them.
It was only about three minutes since the bird strike, and the earth and the river were rushing toward us. I was judging the descent rate and our altitude visually. At that instant, I judged it was the right time. I began the flare for landing. I pulled the side stick back, farther back, finally full aft, and held it there as we touched the water.
We landed and slid along the surface in a slightly nose-up attitude. We slowed down, leveled out, and then came to a stop as the river water splashed over the cockpit windows. Within a second or two, we returned to the slightly nose-up attitude, and the plane was floating. The skyline of New York presented itself from sea level.
First Officer Jeff Skiles and I turned to each other and, almost in unison, said the same thing. “That wasn’t as bad as I thought.” –from Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters