National News

Passengers in N.Y. plane ordeal marvel they're alive

Posted January 16, 2009

— Shortly after midnight Thursday, the Charlotte airport became the scene of reunion and celebration for nine survivors of a plane crash on the Hudson River only hours earlier.

Survivor Mark Hood hugged his wife, Lisa, and their twin children, Maggie and Hayward.

"There was a point in time today when I didn't think I'd seem them again until we all got to heaven," Hood said. "I'm glad we got some more time together."

Brad Wentzell, of Charlotte, looked forward to a quick ride home and then seeing his 2 1/2 year-old daughter again.

"She's in bed right now," Wentzell said. "And when I get home, I want to take my nose and put it by her ear and her warm little body and give her a nice kiss from daddy, because I'm alive."

Wentzell's wife couldn't meet him at the airport, but he wasn't without family. He walked off the plane with his "Uncle Carl" – Carl Bazarian, a fellow survivor he met only hours before but felt had become as close as family.

Survivors said they felt gratitude and amazement for the pilot – Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, 57, of Danville, Calif. – whose skills brought Flight 1549 to a splash landing after an apparent collision with a flock of birds at LaGuardia Airport in New York City.

"The captain was the last one off the vessel, and the captain was the last off the life raft – like  true leader," Hood said.

"Actually, it was an incredible landing. This guy was phenomenal, because we were hitting the Hudson River with full impact," Bazarian, of Amelia Plantation, S.C., said.

For Valerie Collins, the most terrifying moment came in the back galley of the plane – water seeped in from exits that would open only a crack, and dozens of passengers bore down on her, frantic to get out. Seconds before, the 37-year-old mother of three from Maryville, Tenn., believed she would die when Flight 1549 hit the Hudson River. Now, she thought she was going to drown.

But Collins saw daylight at the front of the plane and shouted out, "You can't get out this way. ... Go to the wings! Keep moving, people! We're going to make it. Stay calm."

Dave Sanderson, 47, of Charlotte, who works for Oracle Corp., was headed home after a business trip. The married father of four was in seat 15A, on the left side of the plane.

"I heard an explosion, and I saw flames coming from the left wing,'" he said. "Then it was just controlled chaos. People started running up the aisle. People were getting shoved out of the way."

Kolodjay, 31, who had been headed to a golfing trip in Myrtle Beach, S.C., said he noticed a jolt and felt the plane drop. He looked out the left side of the jet and saw one of the engines on fire.

"Then the captain said, 'Brace for impact because we're going down,'" Kolodjay said. "It was intense." He said some passengers started praying. He said a few Hail Marys.

But he and others spoke of a sense of calm and purpose that quickly descended on the passengers and crew as the plane started filling with water and rescue boats swarmed to the scene. They decided women and children would be evacuated first.

"Then the rest of us got out," he said.

One woman had two small children who couldn't swim. She held on to the infant, and Collins, aboard an emergency raft, grabbed hold of the older girl, who was not yet 3.

"She was so scared. She had a little blue blanket, and she just was hunkered in my lap," Collins said. "She just kept biting on my left arm – she never said a word." The group was pulled aboard a rescue vessel.

Emergency medical service worker Helen Rodriguez was one of the first rescuers on the scene. She saw stunned, soaking passengers, saying, "I can't believe I'm alive." The worst injury she saw was a woman with two broken legs.

Paramedics treated at least 78 patients, many for hypothermia, bruises and other minor injuries, fire officials said.

Police scuba divers arrived at the scene to see a woman in her late 30s or early 40s in the water, hanging onto the side of a ferry boat.

She was "frightened out of her mind," suffering from hypothermia and unable to climb out of the water, said Detective Robert Rodriguez of the New York Police Department.

The detectives swam with her to another ferry and hoisted her aboard. As they were wrapping that up, another woman, who was on a rescue raft, fell off. So they put her on a Coast Guard boat.

About 70 passengers were taken to the New Jersey side of the river.

Some looked "smiling and happy to be alive." Others were "a little stunned," said Jeff Welz, director of public safety for the city of Weehawken. "I'm looking at them and saying, `I don't know if I'd look good if I went through what they went through.'"


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  • christineswisher Jan 16, 2009

    I believe that God had his hand in this situation - if you don't believe that, then that's your problem. He allows things to happen, good and bad, for various reasons, some of which we understand and others we don't. That is where faith comes in - we either believe in Him or we don't. I personally can't help but believe because I just have to know that there is someone up there who is ultimately way smarter and more wise than anyone on this temporal earth.......I would rather believe and be wrong and not believe and be wrong.......these guys were spared by God.

  • Voice of Reason 23 Jan 16, 2009

    Not wearing a seatbelt isn't knowingly trying to shorten your life. It's just leaving it to God's will if you get into an accident. It's arrogant in the extreme for you to wear a seatbelt to try to thwart God's will. If he puts you in an accident, who are you to try to stop from dying?

    Or if you want to argue that he wants you to take all precautions to stay alive, then why don't you live in a safe room? There are many measures you could take to stay alive that I'm sure you don't do. Do you wear a surgical mask to prevent infection? Why do you feel that it's acceptible to just roll the dice on that one, but not on the seatbelt? Do you eat according to the nutritional guidlines? Do you work out 3-5 times a week? Why are knowingly reducing the length of your life?

  • Voice of Reason 23 Jan 16, 2009

    "I highly doubt they even thought of atheists when they posted. Is it possible to consider that someone can be sincerely thankful? I can see how atheism can be appealing. No consequences, no limits. No HOPE."

    Quite the opposite. We feel that our time is limited to the time here on this Earth and as such we must make the most of it, and help our fellow man.

    An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanished, war eliminated.
    -- Madalyn Murray O'Hair

  • sunneyone Jan 16, 2009

    Gup, while I agree that the word hero gets bandied about like liquor in a bar on Friday night, I also think that it actually does apply in this case.

  • sunneyone Jan 16, 2009

    V o R, I think we're headed for a nuclear war without God's help.

    I think God IS all knowing, but She lets us make our own decisions. It's a free will thing. I view God's plan like those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. You get to a hallway with three doors. "If you choose the green door, turn to page 120. If you choose the red door, turn to page 37. If you choose the blue door, turn to pay 79." Life is like that. God sets us up with different outcomes, based on our choices. You see what I'm saying?

    And yes, sometimes God "lets" bad things happen.

  • gratefultoGOD Jan 16, 2009

    Hey.. the young guy looks like Kevin James of KING OF QUEENS>> doesn't he?? I'm a retired US AIRWAYS Flight Attendant. SAFETY is always first.. That I am proud of.. and it showed. I was former PIEDMONT.. real proud of that! SAFETY -- well we never had a crash at all at Piedmont! I agree with -- the co-pilot deserve recognition also.. ferry workers... and YES>>> Virginia and everyone else... THERE IS A GOD>!!!!!!

  • TheDude abides... Jan 16, 2009

    V of R = "Is your faith so weak that you need to proclaim it in defiance of the athiests on here?"

    I highly doubt they even thought of atheists when they posted. Is it possible to consider that someone can be sincerely thankful? I can see how atheism can be appealing. No consequences, no limits. No HOPE.

  • TheDude abides... Jan 16, 2009

    Same concept can be applied to the military. When we are in a time where everyone considers ANY military personnel a hero, it bothers me because it again dilutes the meaning of the term. A staff officer sitting in the Green Zone transcribing documents on a computer is not a hero to me, unless he "goes above and beyond" his required duty and rescues someone from a burning building or something. Get my drift. No putting either situation down, but a "hero" he is not

  • The Dude Jan 16, 2009

    I'd just like to point out that the pilot is a Purdue Alum. GO BOILERS!

  • TheDude abides... Jan 16, 2009

    Yes, he knowingly allowes it. As for the seatbelt, bungee jumping, etc. I think that knowingly trying to shorten your life is wrong. It is a statement of the belief that you know more than God when you need to die. (I believe) Everything has its own timing, according to God. And I do wear my seatbelt. Its the law. I dont bungee jump or do any of the other X-games stuff. I think you confused what I was saying as a statement that we need to try to die by our own hand. No. This would be an arrogant insult to an omnicient God.