By now, many of you have seen the breaking news story: Associated Press, "All survive plane crash in NYC's Hudson River," 1/15/09. Synopsis: US Airways Airbus A320 airliner, scant minutes after take-off, collided with a flock of birds. Both engines failed -- only a couple of hundred feet above the Hudson River, during a nasty Arctic cold snap, with the water temperature down around 20°F (roughly -5°C).
During takeoff is just about the worst possible time to lose both engines. The plane isn't going that much faster than stall speed. If it slows down below stall speed, it tips over, falls out of the sky and everybody dies. With no engines, the only way to speed it up is to dive; pull out of that dive too late and you auger in nose first and everybody dies. Hit the water at flight speed and the plane breaks up, everybody dies. The only way to slow down effectively at the last minute is to pull up sharply on the stick; tail hits first while the nose is too high, plane pancakes and breaks apart, everybody dies. But according to witnesses, the pilot actually managed to keep it right on the ragged edge of stall speed and brought it down nice, even, level and intact in the Hudson River. There's an old test-pilot bit of swagger that says, "Paint stripes on a brick and I can fly it;" what the pilot of that plane just did isn't a whole lot different from that boast. You will never see it done any better than that.
Of course, once down, it promptly sank to the windows, submerging all or part of all but the front doors. In, as I said, 20°F water. And yet, before it sank, a swarm of Coast Guard boats and ferries got to it in time to open the doors, and the air crew managed to get everybody out so fast that the last of them cleared the door before the plane sank, and they did all of this without overloading and swamping any of the small craft that were evacuating the passengers. No visible sign of panic from anybody, just everybody doing what they needed to do. Including passengers who probably couldn't deplane that smoothly and quickly on a pleasant spring day on nice flat tarmac. There are so many things that could have gone wrong, so many people who could have screwed this up for everyone if they'd done anything wrong, that I get chills thinking about it.
That? That right there? Is what we call a really good day's work. Everybody gets to go home pretty satisfied with their work today.