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Sonar may have found plane’s missing engine

Wed., Jan. 21, 2009

Divers to look for object today

NEW YORK – Authorities using sonar in the search for the missing engine from US Airways Flight 1549 detected something about the size of the massive aircraft part deep in the frigid, murky Hudson River on Tuesday, but divers ran out of daylight before they could locate the object.

Crews will resume their search today.

Police have already located several pieces of debris from the flight, including 35 flotation seat cushions, 12 life jackets, 15 pieces of luggage, two briefcases, 11 purses, 15 suit jackets and shirts, four shoes, and two hats, according to NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.

The missing left engine, however, is the most coveted prize. Investigators will examine it along with the plane’s attached right engine to better understand how the jet conked out Thursday after hitting a flock of birds. All 155 people survived the miracle crash landing on the river, and US Airways said Tuesday that not even a pet perished.

New York Police Department harbor officers working with a sonar expert from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration got a reading on an object 16 feet long and 8 feet wide in about 60 feet of water north of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, near where the plane made its emergency landing. The engine is about the same size as the object picked up by sonar.

Swift currents made it impossible to drop a robotic device with a video camera to confirm whether it is the engine, and evening fell before divers could find anything.

The developments came as hero pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger attended President Barack Obama’s inauguration. All the media-shy Sullenberger would say is, “I’m not allowed to say anything.”

Since the crash landing, the NYPD has recovered more than 40 pieces of the aircraft, including four window exits and an access panel door.

Two days before the emergency landing, the same plane experienced a compressor stall while in flight. Passengers aboard the flight that left LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 13 reported hearing loud bangs from the right side of the plane. A short time later the situation appeared to return to normal and the flight continued on to Charlotte, N.C.

The compressor is essentially a fan that draws air into the engine and helps create thrust for the jet. A compressor stall is a situation of abnormal airflow resulting from a stall of the blades within the compressor. Compressor stalls can vary in severity from a momentary engine power drop to a complete loss of compression requiring a reduction in the fuel flow to the engine.

The stall will no doubt be looked at as the investigation moves forward, but pilots and aviation experts doubt the malfunction made the plane more vulnerable to the bird strikes that are believed to have imperiled the Airbus A320.

NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said that the board planned to interview the pilot who was at the controls of the aircraft during the earlier incident.

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