As it flew 3,000 feet over one of the most densely populated areas of the planet, a flock of geese struck the plane, causing it to lose all power. Sullenberger was faced with a possible catastrophe.
With brains and courage, the seasoned pilot brought his plane down -- and kept it intact -- on the river's frigid waters.
Sullenberger told CBS' "60 Minutes," "I think, in many ways, as it turned out, my entire life up to that moment had been a preparation to handle that particular moment."
In a matter of minutes, the plane was evacuated, and ferry boats and first responders rushed to the scene. Not one person was killed.
The crew and passengers of flight 1549 forged a bond that day that's still strong.
And on "The Early Show" Friday, the passengers, crew and first responders came together again one year later to remember the day that truly proved to be a "Miracle on the Hudson."
Sullenberger told "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith it feels like much less than a year since it happened. "I feel like I've lived 10 normal lifetimes in this last year," Sullenberger said.
Photos: Behind the Scenes on 60 Minutes
Photos: Plane Down in Hudson
Photos: Jet Submerged
Graphic: Landing Zone
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60 Minutes: An Emotional Reunion
Double Whammy in Plane Splashdown
Divers Describe Rescue
Video: Flight 1549 Redux
Video: Heroes of Flight 1549
As for reuniting a year later, he said, "It's like the best high school reunion you could imagine. We were just talking about that -- who has come the farthest, who has changed the most. We have so much to be grateful for, and it's absolutely wonderful to once again have a chance to celebrate such a wonderful outcome with this great group of people."
Sullenberger's co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, said he remembers the shock of that day most. However, he said he realized that day just how preparations for emergencies could actually lead to success.
"Both of us got right to work," he said. "We used our training. We used our procedures. We used the experience that we've built up over decades between the two of us to handle the emergency."
First responders Sally Phipps, an American Red Cross volunteer who also responded to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and Capt. Vince Lombardi, of N.Y. Waterways, also appeared on "The Early Show."
Phipps said when she arrived on the scene, she was just grateful that she could give her supplies to survivors.
Lombardi said his first thought when he saw the plane was, "Why is there a jet in the water?" He added his second thought was, "OK, let's go."
Passenger John Howell said the day was a "sequence of miraculous events."
"It's hard to find the words to describe the feeling when you're looking out the window and the engines are on fire or there's no engines at all and you're looking down at the river and you recognize that you were in a situation that's not likely to have a good outcome -- and then a few minutes later, you start to realize, 'Wow, we're going to be all right. We're going to walk away from this.'"
For more from the reunion of survivors of Flight 1549, click on the video below.
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