Divers and sonar operators hunted for two sunken engines from a US Airways jetliner in challenging, nearly impossible conditions as investigators made plans to carefully hoist the damaged plane from the water.
The engines, lost when Flight 1549 splashed down after colliding with birds, were presumed to have been carried off by the river’s current.
Exactly where, though, remains a mystery. US Army Corps of Engineers vessels and city police department boats were to resume the search yesterday, probing the sedimented riverbottom along a 7.24km stretch from the point of impact to the southern tip of Manhattan.
Investigators also planned to conduct their first interview yesterday with the pilot, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, who slipped the crippled aircraft into the river when he couldn’t make a nearby airport, saving the lives of all 155 people aboard.
Authorities want to closely inspect the engines to figure out how exactly the birds caused the plane to fail so badly and so fast.
Thick mud, swift tides and bone-chilling temperatures stymied investigators on Friday as the probe began.
Authorities said they planned to extract the aircraft yesterday with a pair of cranes and put it on a barge, where it can be inspected.
Experts said the wrecked engines could be tougher to recover.
They could be 9m to 15m down, stuck in mud and obscured by thick sediment. Conditions are so murky that police and fire department divers will have to feel about by hand.
“There is hardly anything to see because of the sediment,” said Thomas Creamer of the New York District of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Two Army Corps survey boats began searching for the engines on Friday, one working south from the crash site, the other heading north from lower Manhattan.
Under the direction of the police department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used sonar to look for the engines. That technology can produce a more vivid picture of the riverbottom, but its range is limited.
“It is going to take time,” Creamer said. “It is a large area. Things move around quickly.”
Meanwhile, the pilot’s status as a national hero rose by the hour as he took calls from President George W. Bush and president-elect Barack Obama. He earned effusive praise from passengers on the plane and become the subject of a growing global fan club.
Sullenberger was in good spirits and showing no outward signs of stress from the ordeal, a pilots union official said.
The type of engine on the Airbus 320 is designed to withstand a 2kg bird strike, said Jamie Jewell, a spokeswoman for CFM International of Cincinnati, which manufactures the engines.
That’s fairly typical for commercial airliners and their engines, although larger Canada geese can exceed 6kg.
Kitty Higgins, a spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board, also suggested that part of the investigation will be to “celebrate what worked here,” something of a rarity for an agency that focuses on figuring out what went wrong in a disaster.
“A lot of things went right yesterday, including the way that not only the crew functioned, but the way the plane functioned,” she said.