C.B. Sully Sullenberger Rejected 2 Airport Landings: Source

02/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

WASHINGTON — The US Airways pilot who ditched in the Hudson River considered emergency landings at two airports but twice told air controllers he was unable to make them, then said he'd go into the river instead.

That account was provided by a person briefed on pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger's radio communications after his Airbus A320 apparently struck birds as he climbed to 1,500 feet following takeoff from LaGuardia Airport.

The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, gave this account:

When Sullenberger advised his controller at the New York TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control Center) in Westbury, N.Y., of the "double bird strike," the controller gave him a heading to return to LaGuardia and told him Runway 13 was open. Sullenberger replied: "unable."

By "double bird strike," controllers believed Sullenberger meant that both his jet engines had been damaged by bird impacts.

Then Sullenberger saw an airstrip in the northern New Jersey suburbs, asked what it was and if he could go there. The controller told him it was Teterboro, which is a smaller field that serves mainly commuter and private planes. The controller gave him clearance to make an emergency landing on Teterboro's Runway 1.

But Sullenberger again replied: "unable." It was not immediately clear whether Sullenberger had by then decided he couldn't reach Teterboro or that he wouldn't be able to apply the reverse thrusters on his jets to safely stop the aircraft on the Teterboro runway.

The pilot then advised the controller he was going into the Hudson River. The TRACON notified New York harbor authorities of the imminent ditching.