US Airways Flight 1549 will be hoisted out of the frigid waters of the Hudson River Saturday morning by a giant crane and placed onto a barge so investigators can retrieve the flight recorders, investigators said.

On Friday, dive teams were using sonar to scour the river bed for the plane's two engines, which have both fallen off, said National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Kathy Higgins.

"It's a very important piece of the puzzle," said Higgins, referring to the engines, which will provide investigators with integral physical evidence.

However, she said that strong river currents and cold temperatures were hindering efforts to rig up the fuselage so it can be pulled out of the water. Higgins added that interviews with the plane's pilots were scheduled for Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, details began to emerge Friday about the crucial moments leading up to what is being called one of aviation's "most extraordinary" landings.

Shortly after pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III reported a double bird strike over New York City Thursday afternoon, air traffic controllers asked him to return to LaGuardia airport for an emergency landing.

But Sullenberger - who was flying a wounded aircraft over a densely populated urban area - replied that he was "unable" to make it back.

The seasoned pilot briefly considered putting the plane down at a New Jersey airstrip called Teterboro, but he quickly ruled that option out.

With only seconds to make a decision - and with more than a 150 lives in his hands -Sullenberger told air traffic controllers he was going to attempt something daring and risky: a water landing on the Hudson River.

Hours later, all of the plane's 155 passengers were safely on land and the 57-year-old pilot from Danville, Calif., was being hailed a hero.

By Friday, President George Bush had personally called the pilot, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had offered the veteran airman a key to the city.

"I'm going to hold onto it (the key) until we have an opportunity to present it to the incredibly brave pilot, co-pilot and the crew," said Bloomberg during a news conference.

Bloomberg added that the brave actions of the pilot "have inspired millions of people in this city and millions more around the world."

While Sullenberger can't speak publicly on his landing until he completes interviews with investigators, the pilot's wife said Friday that her husband is "a pilot's pilot" who "loves the art of the airplane."

Still, Lorrie Sullenberger, commenting outside of the couple's California home, said that all the national praise felt "a little weird."

It is believed both engines were hit by a bird, possibly an entire flock.

First-hand account

Vallie Collins, who was seated on the last row of the plane, described her ordeal to CTV's Canada AM on Friday.

"The gentleman next to me was looking out the window and we heard a bang and the plane sort of dropped," Collins recounted. "He said he saw the birds. He said 'We've hit a bird.'"

Collins said she sent a quick text message to her husband as the plane continued to glide before it landed on the water.

"Honestly, I've had landings on runways that were rougher," Collins said.

"He did such a great job at putting us down as easy as possible."

Initial video of the plane showed it submerged right up to the windows, as it progressively sank deeper in the Hudson River, near 48th Street in midtown Manhattan.

Coast guard vessels and ferry boats arrived quickly, the plane's doors were opened and passengers wearing yellow life vests, scrambled to safety.

Collins said the pilot was her "hero."

"If I could give him a big hug and kiss one day I would love to because he did a great job," she said.

Collins said her husband was flying from Tennessee to New York Friday to drive her home.

She said she will likely fly again.

"My granddaddy's always said when you fall off a horse you've just got to get back on so I guess I'll just have to get back on -- but not today."

On Thursday, New York Gov. David Patterson called the landing "a miracle on the Hudson."

"We had a miracle on 34th Street. I believe now we have had a miracle on the Hudson," he said.

Sullenberger's co-pilot was Jeff Skiles, 49, of Oregon, Wis., a 23-year US Airways veteran.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says there were about 65,000 bird strikes to civil aircraft in the U.S. between 1990 to 2005. But actual crashes caused by bird are rare.

"Extraordinary landing"

Thursday's near-flawless water landing is part of a tough-to-explain trend in which airline crashes are claiming fewer lives, said MIT statistics professor Arnold Barnett.

Here are some recent examples:

  • Last month in Denver, everyone survived a fiery incident in which a Continental Airlines plane slid off the runway and burst into flames.
  • A year ago, a British Airways 777 crashed near London, but there were no fatalities.
  • More miraculously, a Qantas jet dropped 20,000 feet after a tank of oxygen exploded and tore a hole the size of a compact car in the aircraft's fuselage. Still, the pilot and his crew were able to put the plane down safely.
  • A year ago, everyone escaped after a British Airways 777 crash-landed short of its runway in London.
  • Back in Canada, rescue crews worked fast to evacuate passengers from Air France flight 358, which crashed at Toronto's Pearson International Airport and caught fire in August 2005.

"It's much more heartening what happened today than unnerving," said Barnett, who studies airline crashes.

"The emergencies are becoming rarer and rarer and the observed survival rate given the emergency" is improving, he said.

"It has to be one of the most extraordinary water landings in aviation history," he noted, referring to the Hudson landing.

Thursday's incident isn't unprecedented, however.

In 1968, Japanese pilot Kohei Asoh was able to land a Douglas DC-8 on open water near San Francisco after he and his crew misjudged their altitude because of heavy cloud cover.

With files from The Associated Press