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UNC professor credits pilot's calmness

Posted January 22, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— University of North Carolina professor David B. Sontag is hoping to get his luggage back after the flight he took last week ended up in the Hudson River in New York.

Sontag, a communications professor, was aboard US Airways Flight 1549, which became famous on Jan. 15 when pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger glided the plane to an emergency landing in the Hudson River.

Sullenberger reported a "double bird strike" and a loss of power in both engines shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. All 155 people on board the flight to Charlotte survived.

“We had all the right people in all the right places and everybody made the right decisions, including the passengers,” Sontag said.

unc professor aboard flight 1549 UNC professor recalls Hudson River landing

Sontag, on his way home from his brother’s funeral, ended up on the plane after a flight to Raleigh was canceled. He was re-booked on Flight 1549 because he wanted to get home sooner.

“I said, ‘God, this isn’t the time for my family to have two deaths in one week,’” Sontag said.

Sontag said the pilot’s calm tone when he told passengers to prepare for impact helped.

“When we hit, the water came rushing down and I was underwater for a fraction of a second,” Sontag said.

Dave Sontag unc professor on flight 1549 Full interview with Flight 1549 passenger

Sontag said he and fellow passengers quickly followed the flight attendants' lead.

“I could see the door. I could see the people in front of me. There was no reason to believe I wasn’t going to make it to the wing,” he said.

Standing on the wing, Sontag said he knew he would survive.

“I knew that something would be there within minutes, and even if I had to go into the water if the plane sunk, I had a life vest, a flotation device, and I’m a strong swimmer,” he said.

Sontag said airline officials are drying out the luggage from the plane, which cranes hoisted from the water before it could sink. Sontag said he is hoping to get his bag back because it contains a memento belonging to his late brother.

“Monday night before the funeral, my sister-in-law gave me the gold cuff links she gave to my brother for their first wedding anniversary. So, I got to wear them at the funeral when I did his eulogy,” Sontag said.


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  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Jan 23, 2009

    ghimmy51 & EZeegoing, no one forced you to read the article. If you do not want to read another story from the plane accident, skip the article and not post any negative comments.

  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Jan 23, 2009

    EZeegoing, it is sad that you actually posted a negative comment on this story. The UNC professor has an irreplaceable family memento in the luggage from his brother's funeral, and it is priceless to him.

    Your comments are pretty heartless...

  • crzymom71 Jan 23, 2009

    God truly Blessed this man and all aboard this flight. If they publish every survivors story, I will gladly listen to and read them. These people truly have a lot to be thankful for and should be allowed to share their stories and feelings.

  • EZeegoing Jan 23, 2009

    ""UNC professor credits pilot's calmness""

    So did half the world, why is this still news ? He got his $5,000 from the airlines for the luggage, let's move on.

  • ghimmy51 Jan 23, 2009

    Ok how many passengers and crew stores are left now?

  • tgw Jan 23, 2009

    Wonderful story of a professional crew who did their jobs extremely well. We all get ho-hum when they to the safety instructions before each flight. Well, this proves these are must know to live instructions.

    Professor-well put and well said. We're glad you are still teaching in Chapel Hill. Your students will enjoy the story you have to tell. In addition, your story may get these students to listen as they fly somewhere and save their life in an emergency.

  • housemanagercary Jan 23, 2009

    We all hope you get your brother's cuff links back too and we're glad you're safe.