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‘Brace for impact.’ Crew, passengers reflect on ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ 10 years later

USAirways Flight 1549 passengers arrive in CLT

Passengers from USAirways Flight 1549 reunited to fly from New York to Charlotte on Monday, January 14, 2019. The original flight on January 15, 2009 landed in the Hudson River with Captain "Sully" Sullenberger at the controls.
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Passengers from USAirways Flight 1549 reunited to fly from New York to Charlotte on Monday, January 14, 2019. The original flight on January 15, 2009 landed in the Hudson River with Captain "Sully" Sullenberger at the controls.

When US Airways Flight 1549 hit a flock of geese and the engines failed 10 years ago, Pam Seagle pictured missing moments such as her son’s high school graduation.

The flight had left LaGuardia Airport in New York and was headed to Charlotte when Seagle said she heard a loud bang and smelled fire.

She felt the plane losing forward momentum. She heard the warning from Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger to 150 passengers and four other crew members to “brace for impact” before he safely landed the plane in the Hudson River.

Passengers and crew, along with airline officials and representatives of the Carolinas Aviation Museum, gathered Tuesday at the Charlotte Convention Center to reflect on the event known as the Miracle on the Hudson and on what has happened since.

In the past decade, survivors have attended numerous life events, including graduations and weddings, panel moderator Mike Collins of public radio station WFAE said.

Children and grandchildren have been born and many survivors have retired. Some of the survivors climbed mountains or ran marathons, and at least one has learned to fly, Collins said.

Survivors said it taught them a new perspective and that they appreciate the decade since that they might not have had.

The role of training

Sullenberger — known as “Sully,” which is also the title of the 2016 movie where he was played by Tom Hanks — emphasized how much training played a role in the safe landing.

It was not possible to practice a water landing, so the only training was based on reading a few paragraphs in a manual, he said. Sullenberger worked with First Officer Jeff Skiles, whom he had met just a few days earlier.

They had to adapt their training and “get it right the first time in less than three and a half minutes,” Sullenberger said. The two were able to collaborate wordlessly, he said. “We didn’t have time even to talk about it.”

Skiles said it was his first flight out of training for that specific kind of aircraft and emphasized the value of preparation. He also jokingly took credit for making Sullenberger everything that he is today.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said that the Miracle on the Hudson was “an example of great skill and professionalism” produced by years of training and experience. “There’s never been a story quite like it.” American Airlines merged with US Airways in 2013.

The Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte houses the plane. The museum recently announced that it is seeking a new home so its current space at Charlotte airport can be used for private aviation needs to meet FAA requirements.

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Former flight attendant Doreen Welsh, who had nearly 40 years experience at the time Flight 1549 went down, said she tries to enjoy life and spend time with the people she loves.

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A file photo of the US Airways Flight 1549 display at the Carolinas Aviation Museum. John D. Simmons jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

But she has also experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, she told the Observer.

She can’t do hobbies she used to enjoy, such as crossword puzzles, or read a book to relax. “When I try, I get frustrated.”

The Miracle on the Hudson was her last flight in a professional capacity, she said. But she still flies as a passenger in her new role as a motivational speaker. Welsh has embraced live-in-the-moment mantras. “Take the trip, buy the shoes, eat the cake, life is short.”

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Graduation time

Five months after the Hudson River landing, Seagle ironed her son’s nylon high school graduation gown, taking care to use a low heat setting, she told the Observer. Had she not been there, her husband might have ironed the material at a high temperature and melted it, she said.

Because she survived the crash, she watched her son graduate and remains grateful for “the big moments and the little moments.”

Cassie Cope covers business in Charlotte, with a focus on Charlotte Douglas airport, Duke Energy, Atrium Health and Novant Health. She previously covered politics at The State in Columbia, S.C., and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina.

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