'For the first time in 50 years of commercial jet flight, the pilots of US Airways Flight 1549 successfully executed one of the most technically challenging maneuvers, landing a jetliner on water without fatalities.
Although commercial jetliners are required to be equipped with life vests and inflatable slides for use in an emergency landing on water, it is a seldom-attempted feat. Indeed, even though pilots go through the motions of training to ditch a plane in the water, the generally held belief is that such landings would almost certainly result in fatalities.
To accomplish such a feat shortly after takeoff, while maneuvering past the skyscrapers and dense development of Manhattan, and into the crowded Hudson River, is widely being hailed as a testament to the crew's piloting skills.
"The fact that passengers were able to walk off of that airplane and wait on the wing for rescuers to arrive is remarkable. It's amazing," said aviation consultant Tommy McFall, who is both a former airline pilot and a retired accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Pilots are trained from their first days as students in single-engine trainers for the possibility of a water landing, but the procedure is always considered theoretical, since there is really no way to practice it.
In such emergencies, pilots are trained to bring the airplane in for a smooth landing, just as they would on dry land. In order to keep the plane as watertight and boat-like as possible, pilots are trained to keep the landing gear stowed inside the fuselage.
One of the biggest obstacles to a safe water landing is a jetliner's engines, which hang below the wings on planes such as the A320. Because of their size, the engines could force the cockpit to hit the water at a steep angle.' (WSJ article)
For more about this real-life hero, visit the website of Safety Reliability Methods, Inc., founded by Sullenberger.