Editor’s note: This story originally ran January 18, 2009.
Saturday morning, Jay McDonald was back to his usual routine, taking sons Mason, 4, and Braxton, 3, to the Harris YMCA for a soccer and basketball clinic. But even as he headed out the door, e-mails from friends and family were pouring in to his Myers Park home – sprinkled with references to “nine lives,” “unbreakable” and “superhero.”
That’s because the 39-year-old software salesman survived Thursday’s crash of US Airways Flight 1549, just two years after surgery to remove a brain tumor that turned out to be benign.
“How can I be so lucky more than once?” he asked Saturday afternoon, at home with his wife, Jen, his sons, and 16-month-old daughter, Avery.
God must have something in mind for you, people have told him. You’re clearly here for something bigger.
McDonald is reluctant to speak in religious terms, but he knows one thing: It’s easier to handle the aftermath of the crash having lived through a life-threatening experience once before.
He said he plans to fly again. But he wasn’t ready to do it Thursday after the crash.
Instead, he spent the night in a New York hotel and took a train to Washington on Friday morning. Then he hired a car to drive him back to Charlotte.
McDonald arrived at his front door at 10 p.m. Friday – a bag of wet clothes in one hand, three bags from Brooks Brothers in another.
He and two other Flight 1549 passengers caught a ride in a police car – sirens blaring – from the ferry terminal to the Manhattan Brooks Brothers store late Thursday. They walked into the store wrapped in Red Cross blankets to buy dry clothes.
McDonald was wet from the waist down from standing on the plane’s right wing as it slowly sank into the Hudson River.
As the plane went down, he thought of his wife, his kids and his brush with death two years earlier. How can this be happening? he asked himself.
The plane’s impact was less severe than McDonald expected. But his way out was blocked by a woman’s purse that was caught on a seat arm.
Up and over the seats he went, grabbing a seat cushion on his way out the door onto the right wing.
Outside there was yelling. The inflatable raft had deployed several feet shy of the wing’s edge, McDonald said, making it difficult to board. He asked a man behind him to hold his left arm while he leaned out to grab the raft with his right.
With the raft snug against the wing, people began diving into it. Then a ferry arrived with a ladder reaching down into the water. McDonald and others jumped several feet from the wing to the ladder. Maybe that’s when he banged his knees, the only things sore after the crash.
In the next few days, McDonald plans to ease up a little on work to spend time focusing on family and friends. He’s pondering the future in a different way now, searching for some perspective on what he’s been through.
“It’s a crazy story,” he says. A story he might want to share in speeches to youth or church groups, or perhaps a book.
For now, though, he’s conscious of the two-year-old scar down the back of his skull, the slight pain in his knees, and how glad he is to be alive.