Local News

UNC professor credits pilot's calmness

Posted January 22, 2009 11:04 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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.



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.