Divers battled vicious currents in the Hudson River to find the engines from a US Airways Airbus that crashed with no loss of life thanks to what is being called the pilot's heroism.
NTSB investigators approach the wreckage of US Airways jetliner flight 1549 floating in the Hudson River. (AFP Photo)
The disappearance of the engines in the fast-flowing and icy cold river off New York severely complicated attempts to understand why the Airbus suddenly lost power Thursday, forcing the captain to ditch.
The plane, now semi-submerged and moored at a dock, will be raised Saturday at 10:00 am (1500 GMT), Kitty Higgins, a member of the investigating National Transport Safety Board, told a press conference.
Until then the black box voice and data recorders, located in the tail of the semi-submerged plane, are also out of reach.
Initial reports from aviation officials suggested that the plane collided with a flock of birds, possibly geese, causing disastrous damage to the engines.
"If there was any kind of damage as a result of birds, my understanding is this will show up" in the missing engines, Higgins said. "It's a very important piece of the puzzle."
"We just can't get to them because of the problem of the currents, the water and the temperatures," she said.
Praise poured in for pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who is credited with conducting a miraculously soft landing.
He and his co-pilot were due to be debriefed by investigators Saturday.
President George W. Bush telephoned to thank him for "his bravery and for his heroic efforts to ensure the safety of his passengers and the people in the area," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Later in the day, president-elect Barack Obama's incoming White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama telephoned Sullenberger to praise his "heroic" performance.
"The president-elect told Capt. Sullenberger how proud everyone was for the heroic and graceful job he had done in landing the damaged aircraft yesterday" Gibbs said in a statement.
Obama "also thanked his crew and the many people on the scene in New York for ensuring the safety of everyone on board the plane."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg awarded Sullenberger and the rest of the crew the keys to the city. "We saw a lot of heroism in the Hudson yesterday," he said.
New York Governor David Paterson hailed the near-disaster as the "Miracle on the Hudson."
Following an extraordinarily skillful landing on the Hudson, all 150 passengers and five crew on US Airways flight 1549 were able to step out into rescue boats, few of them even suffering injuries.
The jet had just taken off from New York's LaGuardia airport for Charlotte in North Carolina when power went out.
Unable to return to LaGuardia, or reach any other airport, the captain decided to ditch.
Seconds after the crash, frantic passengers scrambled out onto the airplane wings, chilly river water lapping at their feet. Ferryboats steamed to the rescue as the aircraft slipped under the water.
Incredibly, the most serious injury appeared to be one broken leg, Bloomberg said.
Passenger Jeff Kolodjay said that when Sullenberger told passengers to brace for impact, he said the "Hail Mary" prayer.
"We hit the water pretty hard," Kolodjay told Newsday daily newspaper -- hard enough for some people to hit their heads on the ceiling.
But once on the river, the doors opened and passengers headed for the wings as water poured into the jet, Kolodjay said.
Bloomberg said the pilot stayed behind to make sure everyone was safe.
"He walked the plane twice after everybody else was off and tried to verify that there was nobody else on board."
Higgins said that divers, assisted by high-tech sonar gear, were largely in the dark about where in the Hudson the engines were located.
"I believe they started at the point where the plane came down and are moving down the river," she said.
As for the plane, investigators plan to transport it to a secure location on dry land once they can get it out of the river
"Then we can remove the recorders. They tried while the plane was still in the water but that was not possible," Higgins said.