Well, the bloom is off the rose, or about to be. The passengers of US Airlines Flight 1549, which, in case you missed it, crashed into the Hudson last week, have seemed happy enough so far to have come away from their ordeal with fifteen minutes of stardom, $5,000 from the airline (plus reimbursed ticket costs!), and their lives intact. But the news that the plane suffered an engine malfunction only two days before the accident could change all that. The National Transportation Board examined the Airbus 320’s maintenance records and found an entry in the aircraft’s maintenance log indicating a “compressor stall” on a flight from JFK to Charlotte on January 13, and CNN spoke to a passenger, Steve Jeffrey, who was on that flight. The plane had been in the air around twenty minutes, he said, when he heard a loud banging from the side of the plane.
“It seemed so loud, like luggage was hitting the side but times a thousand. It startled everyone on the plane,” Jeffrey said. “We started looking at each other. The stewardesses started running around. They made an announcement that ‘everyone heard the noise, we’re going to turn around and head back to LaGuardia and check out what happened.’
“I remember turning to my [business] partner and saying, ‘I hope you got everything in order back home, life insurance and everything, because that didn’t sound good.’”
He added, “About 10 minutes later when we never made the turn, we kept going, that’s when the pilot came on and explained — I wish I could remember the words — I remember him using air, compression and lock — I’m not sure the right order, but he made it sound like the air didn’t get to the engine and it stalled the engine out.”
The airline won’t confirmed that this was the same plane as the one that landed in the Hudson two days later, but according to an outside consulting firm employed by CNN, it was. The accident has engendered a lot of goodwill: The pilot, Sully Sullenberger, is the president’s guest at the inauguration today, and no one has filed any lawsuits against the airline as of yet; in fact, it’s been quite a public-relations boon to a carrier that before this has been known primarily as the airline too cheap to provide free soft drinks to their passengers. But if it starts to look like they were too cheap to fix their plane properly — well, all the free Penguin hats in the world won’t make up for that.