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Co-Pilot in Crash-Landing Thanks Union

Updated from 2:44 p.m. EST

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In the first public statement from a pilot of US Airways (LCC) flight 1549, first officer Jeff Skiles has thanked his union for assisting him in the aftermath of the flight's emergency landing on the Hudson River on Thursday.

"You all need to know that when you are at the weakest, most vulnerable time of your airline career, USAPA will be there to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you," Skiles said in a letter to fellow members of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association. A copy of the letter was obtained by

"I have incurred a debt to these people that can never be repaid. I can only say thank you, and tell you that you have made a difference in my life," wrote Skiles, 49, who joined US Airways in 1986.

Skiles handled the takeoff and was at the controls when the birds flew into the engine of the Airbus A320. At that point, he handed the flying off to the captain, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. "Your aircraft," said Skiles, according to the cockpit voice recorder. Then, with Sullenberger at the controls, Skiles attempted to restart the engines and began working through emergency landing procedures.

"On Thursday, many of fellow union members dropped everything, postponed their lives and rushed to New York to aid Sully, Donna, Sheila, Doreen and me in our time of greatest need," Skiles wrote, referring to Sullenberger and the three veteran flight attendants: Donna Dent, Shelia Dail and Doreen Welsh. All three have at least 26 years experience with US Airways: Welsh has 38 years experience.
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