A year later, passengers mark ‘miracle on the Hudson’ with a reunion toast
NEW YORK - The spot where a crippled jet landed a year ago on the frigid Hudson River amid panic and heroism was transformed yesterday into a site of celebration as survivors of
Cheering and hollering, they raised their glasses at 3:31 p.m., the moment of impact, on one of the ferries that rescued them from the water. They made the toast at the approximate spot where the plane went down after a half-day of gatherings to mark the miraculous splash landing, which all survived.
At least some of the passengers had planned to make the toast with Grey Goose vodka - apparently a wry nod to the flock of geese that disabled the engine of the Airbus A320 on Jan. 15, 2009. A passenger arranged for the vodka company to provide some bottles, said Pat Smith, a spokesman for NY Waterway, the employer of ferry crews that rescued many of the 155 people aboard.
A group of passengers approached NY Waterway to ask their help in arranging the on-the-water celebration, Smith said. The ferry company donated the use of their terminal and boats for the event.
About 100 people applauded earlier in the morning as Captain Chesley “Sully’’ Sullenberger - an unknown pilot when he deftly brought down the North Carolina-bound plane - arrived for a breakfast as a national celebrity, smiling and wearing his pilot’s uniform.
“We’re so happy to have so much to celebrate,’’ he said. “We have so much to be grateful for,’’ he said.
A few hours later, passengers, crew and rescuers gathered at a ferry terminal on Manhattan’s West Side to embark on the river jaunt. It was a clear but chilly day, just as it was a year before, and some people were worried about going into the river.
“A little nervous,’’ said flight attendant Doreen Welsh, who developed a fear of water after she was submerged up to her chin in the flooded aircraft. She said she began crying when another flight attendant pointed out the spot in the terminal where she had lain on a gurney after being rescued.
“It brought it all back,’’ she said.
Dozens of the passengers on Flight 1549 participated in the day’s events, including Laura Zych and Ben Bostic of Charlotte, N.C., who started dating after the splashdown’s six-month anniversary.
Life, said Bostic, is “a lot better. I’m more open to opportunities. I appreciate everything.’’
Chimed in Zych: “We don’t take anything for granted. We celebrated the one-month anniversary, two, three, four. We’ve been waiting for this day.’’
Bostic said he still feels “a little anxiety’’ about flying. But having Zych with him, he said, makes it easier.
Sullenberger said that, to date, he has met two-thirds of the passengers and hoped to meet all of them eventually. At the ferry terminal, he was mobbed by well-wishers, including a tearful Hannah Acton, whose husband, Patrick, was on the flight.
“Thank you so much,’’ she said, clutching a copy of Sullenberger’s book to her chest.
Later, she recalled the dread she felt after getting a call that her husband’s plane had gone down, then not knowing for 23 minutes whether he was alive as she watched the rescue on television.
“I was hysterical,’’ she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, now I’m watching my husband die.’’’
At the morning event, Sullenberger’s copilot, Jeffrey Skiles, called all the rescuers, from the fire and police departments to ferry and boat operators, “the true heroes of that day.’’
Skiles then made a $5,000 donation to the American Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.