"Brace for impact," said Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III, guiding US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River last Thursday, shortly after a flock of birds flew into the plane's twin engines — resulting in mechanical failure.
At that moment, New York-based spectators used microblogging site Twitter to send rapid-fire messages across the web about a possible plane crash.
The first eyewitness report — scooping all mainstream media outlets — came from Jim Hanrahan (@Manolantern). Four minutes after the crash, he tweeted, "I just watched a plane crash into the hudson riv [sic] in manhattan."
The mainstream media reported the news fully fifteen minutes later, according to the Telegraph.
Another Twitter user, perched aboard a ferry that helped rescue the plane's 155 passengers and crew, snapped one of the first photos of the Airbus A320 in the river, then uploaded it to photo-sharing service TwitPic via mobile.
On Flickr, still more images came streaming in. Some depict jubilant scenes as rescuers lead passengers to safety; others show injured survivors in local hospitals. YouTube also played host to citizen journalist footage, as people uploaded dozens of videos from on-the-scene pocket camcorders and mobile phones — much like they did during the California wildfires last year.
The day after the crash, a Facebook fan club dedicated to "American hero" Sullenberg was set up and swelled to over 10,000 members, Time reported.
That figure grew at a rate of some 215 new fans per minute. By 2 PM on Sunday, there were more than 300,000 fans and 14,000 wall posts (comments left by viewers).
Among them: "Superman himself could not have saved the plane any better than you did," "That's the kind of union pilot I want flying mine," and — from a grateful New Yorker — "Thank you for gliding that plane right over my head ( I live under your flight path) and safely landing in the river. You are a TRUE hero!"
Meanwhile, US Airways' social media "index score" — a measurement of how often a brand is "buzzed" about — skyrocketed: At its peak, the company's scores were up 171% from its December average, reaching a three-day average of plus-135%, writes MediaPost.
"It is important for brands to take note of these passionate and engaged audiences who need a forum in good times and bad," said Reggie Bradford, CEO of Vitrue, which created Sullenberg's Facebook fan page and developed the index.
The long-term merits of the buzz remain incalculable. US Airways filed for bankruptcy twice over the past several years, has a history of losing baggage, and was the first airline to charge for coffee and tea.
Though the mishap was not its fault and was handled admirably, outsiders may nonetheless perceive it as a crash — a possible sticking point for skittish travelers.