The “Miracle on the Hudson” is one of the most amazing stories in aviation history.
On Jan. 15th, 2009, a flight bound for Charlotte, North Carolina, full of people, landed safely on the Hudson River after a bird strike, a flock of migrating geese striking the aircraft.
All 150 seats on the Airbus A320, were full for the 2-hour trip from New York’s LaGuardia airport to Charlotte in North Carolina. It was a cool day with snow on the ground. At the controls were Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles. The three flight attendants in the passenger cabin had a combined experience totaling 95 five years.
Climbing through 2,818 feet and after covering 4.5 miles, they hit a big flock of migrating Canada geese, many of which were ingested by the two engines, and both failed. Momentum carried the plane up to 3,060 feet before they ran out of energy and started descending. Air traffic control suggested a return to LaGuardia, or Teterboro, a nearby executive airport in New Jersey, but both were out of reach. They passed over the George Washington Bridge at 900 feet and splashed down in the Hudson River at 1531 after only six minutes in the air, half of it without engine power.
As the plane approached the water, someone in the back yelled out, “Exit row people get ready!” Very New York. At the other end of some kind of experience spectrum, one passenger who regained his senses standing in the aisle but thought he’d died in the crash and looked back to his seat to see what his dead body looked like, and only realized he’d survived because the seat was empty.
Everyone survived, and many who did say it changed their lives.
Jim Whitaker said he was not supposed to be on the plane. He had gotten the last standby seat on what was supposed to be a routine flight back to Charlotte. “And we’re taking off, and I’m trying to read the newspaper, and all of sudden, boom,” Whitaker said.
Another passenger, Beth McHugh said as soon as she heard the boom, she and everyone else started to try to figure out what happened. What we didn’t know until a few seconds later was that both of the engines had basically exploded at the same time,” McHugh said. “That’s a bad feeling, when all of that thrust suddenly goes away and it’s just silent as you’re floating through the air,” Whitaker said.
McHugh said she could hear people murmuring, people praying and people pulling out their cellphones to call home. She said despite the situation, she felt a certain calm and acceptance.
“Once I realized that we’re all probably going to die here, and at that point I did feel a certain calm come over me, an acceptance of what’s going to happen will happen,” McHugh said.
But what happened was the “miracle.”
Flight 1549 hit the Hudson River at 150 mph, slowed, tilted to the left and finally stopped. “When I stood up, I looked down at my seat to make sure that I actually was alive,” McHugh said. McHugh and Whitaker were alive after the plane crashed, but they said they realized the danger was not over yet.
The back end of the plane where McHugh and Whitaker were sitting hit the Hudson River first and ripped open. Icy water was rushing in. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. We survived a plane crash and we’re going to drown now. We’re back here and we’re going to drown before we get out,’” McHugh said. “I just remember struggling through the water first and then struggling to get past people and carrying the seat cushion in front of me.”
Whitaker said there was a pause to get the evacuation started, but once it started, it was a hurried process to get everyone off the plane quickly.
It was the second miracle that all 155 on board made it out safely with only minor injuries. It was fate that a pilot with the experience and courage of Sully Sullenberger was at the controls.
But they will all tell you that every day they have spent over the last 10 years with family and friends has been its own miracle – the miracle of life.