It’s been 10 years, but there isn’t anything Tripp Harris doesn’t remember about the cold January day he cheated death on US Airways flight 1549.
The jolt when the plane collided with a flock of geese and the engines stopped moments after takeoff from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. The smoke filling the cabin. The electric, burning smell. The panic from the people around him. The calm, steady tone of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger telling everyone to brace for impact as he steered the Airbus A320-214 into the frigid waters of the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009.
And, of course, he knows the happy ending of the “Miracle on the Hudson”: All 155 people aboard survived.
Harris has also never forgotten what that day taught him about what really mattered: his wife and then-2-year-old son.
“Everything that I could think about was the things I was going to miss,” said Harris, 47, of Charlotte, North Carolina, where the flight was headed. “That fundamentally shifted my priorities.”
It’s colored his life ever since. He decided to spend more time with his family and have adventures and experiences he might otherwise have put off.
That day “made me a better father, a better husband,” Harris said.
It’s a common refrain among survivors, of how that day led to big life changes and small everyday choices, and to feeling joy more readily. But some also speak of the anxiety that can still rise every time they’re on a flight.
“I have a lot more gratitude about my life,” said Sheila Dail, 67, one of the flight attendants. After taking the better part of a year off, she returned to working in the skies and helped to create a peer support group for air stewards at her airline. “I have three grandsons I possibly would never have seen.”
Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia a decade ago Tuesday, with Sullenberger’s co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles at the controls, three flight attendants and 150 passengers aboard. It was cold, only about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 degrees Celsius), but the skies were clear.
“What a view of the Hudson today,” Sullenberger remarked to Skiles, according to National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the crash.
Less than a minute later, plane and birds collided at 3,000 feet (915 metres). Both engines stopped. Sullenberger took the controls and told air traffic controllers he couldn’t make it back to LaGuardia. His choices were a small airport for private aircraft in New Jersey — possibly too far — or the river. Sullenberger picked the water.
At 3:31 p.m., the plane splashed down, somehow stayed in one piece, and began floating fast toward the harbour. Passengers got out on the wings and inflatable rafts as commuter ferries raced to the rescue.
One flight attendant and four passengers were hurt, but everyone else was mostly fine.
The submerged and damaged plane was recovered and is now held at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, where survivors are planning to gather Tuesday to mark the 10-year anniversary, including a toast at the exact time of the crash.
The Associated Press