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Opening Statement For the Public Hearing on US Airways Flight 1549 Airbus A320, N106US, Hudson River, NJ January 15, 2009, Washington, DC
Robert L. Sumwalt
Public Hearing on US Airways Flight 1549   Airbus A320, N106US, Hudson River, NJ January 15, 2009, Washington, DC

Opening Statement By
Honorable Robert L. Sumwalt
Chairman, Board of Inquiry

June 9, 2009

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome.

My name is Robert Sumwalt and I am a Board Member of the National Transportation Safety Board.  I am honored to serve as chairman of the Board of Inquiry for this public hearing.

Today we are opening a public hearing concerning the emergency landing on the Hudson River that occurred on January 15, 2009, involving US Airways Flight 1549.

The hearing is being held for the purpose of supplementing the facts, conditions, and circumstances surrounding this accident. This process will assist the Safety Board in determining the probable cause of the accident and in making any recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future.  No determination of cause will be rendered during these proceedings.

While airline accidents are rare events, they are widely publicized and scrutinized by experts around the globe.  This event was made even more exceptional in the spectacular nature of the landing on the river, along with the significant fact that there were no fatalities. 

I would like to take a moment to recognize and welcome the surviving passengers and their families present in our audience today and viewing this proceeding via our web cast.

While we are grateful that this event had such a positive outcome we are also aware that this event was very difficult for many of you. As we proceed through the Board’s investigation I want to assure you that we will conduct a thorough investigation to hopefully keep others from ever going through what you have been through.

That is why we are here.  When a transportation accident occurs, it is the responsibility of the NTSB to find out what happened, determine why it happened, and then make safety recommendations to prevent a similar accident from happening in the future.

A public hearing is one tool the NTSB may use to help complete an investigation.

The purpose of this hearing is two-fold.  First, the issues that will be discussed at this hearing serve to assist the Safety Board in developing additional factual information that will be analyzed for the purpose of determining the probable cause of the accident.  Secondly, this hearing also provides the opportunity not only to the aviation community, but to the traveling public, as well, to see a portion of the investigative process. 
As an additional point of information, I would like to note that I was, for a number of years, employed as a pilot by US Airways and, in fact, I even flew the accident aircraft on occasion.  By way of clarification, I want to add that I have no financial interest in or relationship of any type with US Airways and have not had such interest or relationship since leaving US Airways over four years ago.  That said, I should also note that, in accordance with the requirements of the Standards of Conduct, the NTSB’s Designated Agency Ethics Official carefully reviewed the propriety of my serving in the capacity of chairman of this Board of Inquiry and found that there was no conflict of interest or reason to believe that my impartiality or that of the Board should be questioned.(1)  As are my fellow Board Members and the remainder of the Board staff, I am committed to an impartial and complete investigation and review of this accident.

Now, to the matter at hand: in preparation for this hearing, I flew the accident scenario on a flight simulator and listened to the Cockpit Voice Recorder in real time.  As an experienced pilot, I can tell you this was a busy crew.  They had a lot going on.  In considering what could have been done differently, there is certainly no intention by the Safety Board to diminish the crew’s and first responder’s extraordinary success in saving the lives of all passengers and crew that day.  We must learn from the accident—not only about what went right but perhaps what may be improved upon.

Neither I nor any other Safety Board personnel will attempt during this hearing to analyze the testimony received nor will any attempt be made at this time to determine the probable cause of the accident.  Such analyses and cause determinations will be made by the full Safety Board after consideration of all of the evidence gathered during our investigation.  The final report on the accident, reflecting the Safety Board's analyses and probable cause determinations, will be considered for adoption by the full Board at a public meeting here at the Safety Board's board room at a later date.

These proceedings tend to become highly technical affairs, but they are an essential part of the process in completing an investigation and seeking to reassure the public that everything is being done to ensure the safety of the airline industry.

The purpose of this inquiry is not to determine the rights or liability of private parties and matters dealing with such rights or liability will be excluded from these proceedings.  I want to emphasize that this hearing is non-adversarial—it is a fact-finding examination. 

Over the course of this hearing, we will collect information that will assist the Safety Board in its examination of safety issues arising from this accident.  Specifically, we will concentrate on the following issues:

  1. Pilot training regarding ditchings and forced landings on water
  2. Certification standards regarding ditchings and forced landings on water for transport category airplanes
  3. Cabin Safety:  Training, Procedures, and Equipment
  4. Bird detection and mitigation efforts
  5. Certification standards for bird ingestion into transport category airplane engines. 

At this point, I would like to introduce the other members of the Board of Inquiry:

  • Mr. John DeLisi, the Deputy Director of the NTSB’s Office of Aviation Safety, and
  • Dr. Joseph Kolly, the Acting Director of the NTSB’s Office of Research and Engineering.

Members of the technical panel are as follows:

  • Mr. Robert Benzon, Investigator in Charge
  • Captain David Helson, Operations/Human Performance Group Co-chairman
  • Dr. Katherine Wilson, Operations/Human Performance Group Co-chairman
  • Mr. Brian Murphy, Structures Group Chairman
  • Mr. John O’Callaghan, Aircraft Performance Specialist
  • Mr. Mark George, Wildlife Factors Group Chairman
  • Mr. Jason Fedok, Survival Factors Group Chairman
  • Mr. Harry Reichel, Powerplants Group Chairman, and
  • Mr. Nicolas Marcou, the French Accredited Representative of the Bureau d’Enquets et d’Analyses, the NTSB’s counterpart organization in France
  • Mr. Benzon, the Investigator-in-Charge for this investigation, is also acting as the Hearing Officer for this event.

The biographies of the members of the Board of Inquiry and the Technical Panel can be found at the NTSB’s website ( 

Mr. Peter Knudson from the Safety Board's Office of Public Affairs is here to assist in matters dealing with the news media. 

Ms. Eunice Bellinger will provide administrative support, as needed. 

Mr. Erik Grosof from the Office of Transportation Disaster Assistance will be assisting Flight 1549 passengers and family members during the course of the hearing.

Federal regulations provide for the designation of parties to an NTSB public hearing.  In accordance with these regulations, those persons, governmental agencies, companies, and associations whose participation in the hearing is deemed necessary in the public interest are designated as parties.  The parties assisting the Safety Board in this hearing have been designated in accordance with these regulations, and they have been selected for their technical expertise in their respective fields. 

I will now call, in alphabetical order, the names of the parties to the hearing. As I call the name of each party, I will ask the designated party spokesperson to please give his or her name, title, and affiliation for the record:

  • Airbus: Rudy Canto
  • Association of Flight Attendants: Candace Kolander
  • CFM International: Bruce Mills
  • Federal Aviation Administration: Hooper Harris        
  • US Airline Pilots Association: Dan Sicchio
  • US Airways: Paul Morell

I want to thank publicly all of the private and governmental agencies that have supported the Safety Board throughout the investigation. 

On June 3, 2009, the Board of Inquiry held a prehearing conference in this Board Room.  It was attended by the hearing’s Board of Inquiry, Technical Panel and representatives of the parties to this hearing.  During that conference, the areas of inquiry and the scope of the issues to be explored at this hearing were delineated and the selection of the witnesses to testify on these issues was finalized.
The Investigator in Charge of the accident investigation will summarize certain facts about the accident and the investigative activities that have taken place to date.  Following this, the first witness will be called.

The witnesses have been selected because of their ability to provide the best available information on the issues of aviation safety pertinent to this accident investigation. 
Each witness will testify under oath and will serve on panels devoted to specific topic areas. The Technical Panel will question the witnesses first, followed by each party spokesperson.  The Board of Inquiry will be the last to question the witness.

As Chairman of the Board of Inquiry, I will be responsible for the conduct of the hearing. I will make all rulings on the admissibility of exhibits and pertinence of proffered testimony, with the assistance of NTSB General Counsel, Mr. Gary Halbert, seated behind me. All such rulings will be final.

The record of the investigation including the transcript of the hearing and all exhibits entered into the record will become part of the Safety Board's public docket and will be available on the Board’s website.  Additionally, all of the presentations will also be available on our website after the hearing which is also being webcast at 

Witnesses who have completed their testimony should realize that they may be subject to recall should the need arise. Therefore, witnesses should not leave unless they have checked with the Hearing Officer, Mr. Benzon.

In closing, I ask that everyone please silence cell phones and other electronic devices you may have with you.  Please also make a mental note of the exits from this room in the event they are needed in an emergency.   

Mr. Benzon, are you ready to summarize the investigation and enter the exhibits into the public docket?  Please proceed. 

[Benzon Investigation Summary]

Thank you. Now, Mr. Benzon, would you please call the witness on the first panel?


  1. When it appeared that the Board’s procedures for assigning matters to Board Members would result in my being assigned the role of Chairman of this hearing, the Managing Director of the NTSB informed the Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) of the possibility and the DAEO, as the agency designee for such matters, and pursuant to the considerations identified in 5 C.F.R. § 2635.502 (d), after review of the circumstances, found that:
      1. Although I am a former employee of US Airways, my employment relationship with US Airways ended in excess of 4 years ago; and, since that time, I have had no financial interest in US Airways and no continuing financial relationship with the corporation;
      2. As the Chairman of the Board of Inquiry concerning this matter, I would have a key role in shaping the matters that are presented.  However, I am not the sole agency official tasked with the investigation of the matter, and, in fact, am not the investigator-in-charge of the agency’s investigative efforts.  Though the Chairman of the Board of Inquiry is in a sensitive position, the DAEO recognized that there are sufficient procedural safeguards that protect the agency’s independent investigative activities. Likewise, when, subsequent to this hearing, I serve as one of the Board Members considering the probable cause and safety recommendations related to the accident, I will do so via a Sunshine Meeting and via written notation procedures that make clear the decision making process of the Board.  While called upon throughout to exercise discretion, I do so in the public context and without the ability to exercise sole, unfettered discretion; and, therefore,
      3. My service as the Chairman of the Board of Inquiry was neither prohibited nor improper