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An emergency incident refers to a situation that poses an instantaneous risk to health, life, property, or environment (Wang, Rosca, Tepfenhart & Milewski, 2006). It hence requires urgent intervention to in order to exercise control limiting the progression of the situation into a worse stage (Buck, Trainor & Aguirre, 2006). At times, palliative care for the aftermath is the only possible intervention as mitigation may be not possible. A good example of an emergency incident occurred on 15th January 2009 in Hudson River (Pariès, 2009). Airbus A320, a commercial passenger aircraft, US Airways Flight 1549 headed for Charlotte Douglas International Airport, North Carolina suffered a bird strike (Marra et al., 2009). This caused both its engines to fail and the flight could not make it back to LaGuardia Airport, New York City. The crew of the aircraft decided to make an unpowered emergency landing in Hudson River. There were 155 persons on board and Captain Chesley alongside First Officer Jeffrey made the ditching decision to avoid what was a likely imminent crash (Pariès, 2009). The ditching of the aircraft into the river was later on regarded as a unique and heroic aviation achievement (Pariès, 2009). The aircraft’s 6 minutes flight ended at 3:31 pm marking what would be the beginning an emergency operation to rescue the occupants of the flight from the sinking aircraft.
Following the Incident Command System
According to Buck, Trainor and Aguirre (2006), an Incident Command System (ICS) refers to a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of emergency response. This provides a common hierarchy within which responders from multiple agencies can be effective (Fraher, 2011). For US Airways Flight 1549, the greatest command responsibility lied with Captain Chesley. Being the flight commander, rescue and evacuation plans especially within the premises of the aircraft depended on him (Pariès, 2009). He therefore had to coordinate the flight crew on the process of evacuating the passengers from the cabin. The cabin was likely to fill up with water which would bring in the risk of drowning before rescue took place. There was need hence to take passengers to safety within the shortest time. On ditching, the captain opened cockpit door and gave the flight attendants an order to evacuate the passengers. Two flight attendants opened front doors which were meant also to activate a slide craft. The flight attendants also instructed passengers to climb over the seats as they moved forward (Marra et al., 2009). This would enable them to escape the rising waters of Hudson River inside the cabin. The safety destinations were the wings of the aircraft and an inflatable raft from where the boats would hopefully complete the evacuation process. Captain Chesley walked twice through the length of the evacuated cabin to ensure that no one remained behind (Fraher, 2011). Dave Sanderson, one of the passengers volunteered assistance in the evacuation process. Most notably, among the rescued passengers, one was in a wheelchair. Based on these observations, the process of ditching US Airways Flight 1549 into Hudson River, and the evacuation within the cabin followed Incident Command System protocol. Captain Chesley was fully leading the rest of the crew to bring the situation under control (Pariès, 2009).
Mistakes in the Hudson River Flight Ditch
The entire operation by the flight crew onboard US Airways Flight 1549 from the moment it suffered the bird strike and consequently an engine failure; to the final evacuation from the waters of Hudson River was considered a great success (Marra et al., 2009). However, a few hitches occurred one being that Captain Chesley forgot to press the ditching button which would have sealed valves and openings underneath the aircraft (Pariès, 2009). Another mistake is that a panicking passenger opened a rear door which caused water to dash in and fill the cabin at a faster rate. The second mistake would have been avoided by the flight crew assuring the passengers that all was well (Pariès, 2009). This would minimize the chances of the passengers panicking (Fraher, 2011).
The Command and Control Process
In Incident Command System protocol, the command and control process refers to the defined hierarchy which defines the role of each personnel (Buck, Trainor & Aguirre, 2006). It also defines to whom they are supposed to whom one should respond. In aviation, the practice requires that the captain should get in touch with the airport control tower in case of emergency and Captain Chesley followed this (Pariès, 2009). The rest of the crew were answerable to the captain and hence followed his orders.
The Role of the Incident Commander
In an emergency, the incident commander is responsible for the development of incident objectives (Fraher, 2011). He is also responsible for the management of all incident operations. In addition, the Incident Commander is responsible for the application of resources and overall oversight on all persons involved. The captain hence on the engine failure had to make decision regarding how best to save the flight occupants. In addition, he was responsible on devising and ensuring that all the passengers and crew members got rescued safely from the waters of Hudson River.
Definition of “Span of Control”
This refers to the number of individuals that a supervisor in an emergency is responsible for (Wang, Rosca, Tepfenhart & Milewski, 2006). The recommended ratio of supervisors to individuals is between 1:3 and 1:7. In the Hudson incident, Captain Chesley’s span of control involved the flight crew (Pariès, 2009). On their part, the flight crew members were responsible for all the passengers onboard without any specific allocation criteria.
Summary of the Event
Prior to the ditching in Hudson River, Captain Chesley had contacted air traffic control at LaGuardia Airport seeking clearance for an emergency landing. However, the realization that they could not make it back safely to the airport due to loss of altitude led to the decision to ditch in Hudson River. About 90 seconds before the ditch, Captain Chesley informed the passengers that they should brace for the impact. The flight attendants instructed the passengers how they ought to get prepared for the impact occasioned by the ditch into the waters of River Hudson. To maximize the chances of a successful rescue process, US Airways Flight 1549’s captain chose the ditching location near three boat terminals.
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Fraher, A. (2011). Hero-making as a defence against the anxiety of responsibility and risk: a case study of US Airways Flight 1549. Organisational and Social Dynamics, 11(1), 59-78.
Marra, P. P., Dove, C. J., Dolbeer, R., Dahlan, N. F., Heacker, M., Whatton, J. F., & Henkes, G. A. (2009). Migratory Canada geese cause crash of US Airways Flight 1549. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7(6), 297-301.
Pariès, J. (2009). Lessons from (the) Hudson. Hindsight, 9, 27. Retrieved from www.skybrary.aero/bookshelf/books/732.pdf
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