Local News

'Miracle on Hudson' turns survivor into hugger

Posted January 24, 2010 11:02 a.m. EST
Updated January 24, 2010 3:57 p.m. EST

— A woman who survived the emergency landing of a US Airways flight on the Hudson River says the near-death experience turned her into a hugger.

Beth McHugh, of South Carolina, spoke on WRAL's Sunday morning news about that experience and how it has changed her life.

"I was sure that we were going to have a terrible crash and probably not many of us would survive," McHugh said. "So I prayed that it wouldn't be too terrible and that at least, it wouldn't be awful for our families."

But Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger brought the geese-damaged plane down on the Hudson River in New York City, passengers crawled out onto wings as the plane floated, and ferries and other boats brought them safely to land.

McHugh said she now gives hugs to people whenever she can.

"Shortly after the plane crash, I had a couple experiences that made me realize how significant a hug really is for people," she said. "It feels like it shares my miracle with other people."

Writer Kevin Quirk said the experiences of survivors like McHugh inspired him to gather their stories in a book, "Brace for Impact."

"Like most of us, I watched those images of passengers standing on those water-covered wings and said, 'How did it happen? How did they all get out alive?'" Quirk said.

"I write books about meaningful experiences in life, and I couldn't think of anything more meaningful than this," he continued. "I wanted to talk to these passengers about how this second chance at life changed them, so we could learn from them."

McHugh said that the plane crash doesn't haunt her but it serves as a reminder to never take things for granted.

"It's made me aware of things that are important, truly important in life," she said. "The things that used to be big are now small. And the things that used to be just little, small things – a smile from your grandchild, a hug from someone – are very important now."

Quirk said that he hopes readers draw the same lesson from his book.

He said he wants readers "to understand that we can all imagine that we're on that plane and that we have a second chance at life, so that we can live with more gratitude and appreciation, and know that there's hope that sometimes things can turn out well."

McHugh and another survivor of the Hudson River flight will be talking at the Unity Center of Peace, 8800 Seawell School Road in Chapel Hill, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.