Passenger in crash landing challenges account

Says employee opened rear door

By Joan Lowy
Associated Press / June 6, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Passengers on the plane that ditched into the Hudson River in January have told a federal safety panel that it was a flight attendant - not a panicked passenger - who opened a rear door, sending water rushing into the cabin.

The National Transportation Safety Board has scheduled three days of hearings next week on issues arising from the forced landing of US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson between New York and New Jersey on Jan. 15. The first two witnesses are the captain, Chesley Sullenberger, and passenger Billy Campbell, who was seated in the second-to-last row of the Airbus A320.

Board member Robert Sumwalt, who will chair the hearing, said Campbell has told NTSB investigators it was flight attendant Doreen Welsh who cracked open the door, not a passenger.

Welsh said in media interviews and testimony before Congress that a passenger pushed past her to open the door.

Several passengers interviewed by investigators have given accounts similar to Campbell's, an NTSB spokesman said.

In a Feb. 9 account to NBC News, Welsh described what happened in the back of the plane this way:

"Well, I got out of my jump seat and went back and looked out the porthole and saw water. And, wow, then I turned around to start guiding the people away. Just then a passenger knocked me over - and went and just wildly, I mean, she was just frantic - and said: 'Open the door. Open the door.' And she cracked the door."

Flight 1549 collided with a flock of Canada geese minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York, losing thrust in both engines. Sullenberger has said he decided to glide the plane into the Hudson rather than risk crashing in a densely populated area. All aboard survived.