"We can't do it. We're gonna be in the Hudson," Sullenberger can be heard saying before radar contact is lost.

By Mackenzie Schmidt
January 14, 2019 01:48 PM

It’s been ten years since Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely landed a jet on the Hudson River, but the dramatic event is still miraculous to watch — and listen to.

The event that became known as the Miracle on the Hudson, occurred on the afternoon of January 15, 2009, when a flock of Canada geese collided with US Airways flight 1549, knocking out both of the plane’s engines.

After realizing he could not make it back to LaGuardia airport, where the plane had taken off, or an air strip in New Jersey, that air traffic controllers had cleared for an emergency landing, Captain Sullenberger, a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, managed to land the plane on the Hudson River, saving the lives of everyone on board.

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While the terrifying incident and ensuing rescue by emergency services and nearby ferry boats, ended with all 153 passengers and crew members alive and safely on dry land, the audio recording of Sullenberger’s conversation with air traffic controllers is still chilling to listen to.

“This is Cactus 1549. Hit birds. We’ve lost thrust in both engines. We’re turning back to LaGuardia,” Sullenberger says to the controller, referencing the plane’s call sign.

“We may end up in the Hudson,” he adds, sounding extremely calm. 

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The air traffic controller tells him he is cleared to return to LaGuardia and make an emergency landing, but Sullenburger replies, “Unable.”

The controller can then be heard trying to arrange for him to land at nearby Teeterboro airport in New Jersey and ensuring he’s got a clear path there.

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But when he returns to the conversation with Sullenberger, the pilot says simply, “We can’t do it. We’re gonna be in the Hudson.”

The recording ends, “Cactus 1549, radar contact is lost.”

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In a second recording, the controller at LaGuardia can be heard calling in emergency services.

“Get me a police department helicopter . . . right now,” he says. “You get anybody. You send them right to the Lincoln Tunnel. We had a cactus Airbus go down in the water . . . He went down in the river [up near] the Intrepid.” The Intrepid is an aircraft carrier docked on the Hudson and a clear landmark from the air.

Captain Sully, as he became affectionately known, now 67, was heralded as a hero following the event and was suddenly the most famous pilot in the world.

He later became the subject of the film Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Tom Hanks.

He told PEOPLE in a 2016 interview, that making peace with the hero label – or as he calls it the ‘H word’ – was a great struggle.

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“I resisted the H word initially,” says Sullenberger, who remains in regular contact with the group of grateful passengers whose lives he saved. “But I certainly have grown to understand people’s need to feel the way they feel about this event and, by extension, about me.”

In an interview with ABC News marking the anniversary, the now-retired pilot said, “I never had any extraneous thoughts in those few seconds that we had. I didn’t allow myself to and I didn’t have any inclination to. I never thought about my family. I never thought about anything other than controlling the flight path and solving each problem in turn until, finally, we had solved them all.”

He adds, “I think about not only what we did but what everybody else did. All the pieces had to come together. This group of strangers had to rise to the occasion and make sure that they saved every life.”

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