(CBS/AP) Miracle or not, survivors of US Airways Flight 1549 say they are just lucky to be alive.
"It’s still pretty surreal. It’s amazing to be sitting here," Bill Elkin, who sat in row 18 of the downed plane, told CBS’ The Early Show Friday.
Along with fellow crash survivor Eric Stevenson, the two men
described hearing a "series of thuds" shortly after takeoff. Stevenson,
who was sitting near the wing of the plane, said he could see a flock
of birds, but figured the plane would simply plow through them without
But that did not happen.
Instead, the birds most likely caused both engines of the plane to
fail. Elkin recalls the plane’s pilot telling the passengers, "Brace
"I thought this was it," Elkin said.
As the plane descended toward the Hudson River, Stevenson pulled
out a business card and scribbled a quick note addressed to his mother
and sister, Jane. "I love you," it read.
After staying on the plane to make sure everyone got out, Dave
Sanderson said he "jumped up and tried to swim to the first boat I
"Fortunately, someone pulled me up on the boat because I didn’t
have much use of my lower extremities at that point and they pulled me
up and threw me on the boat and thank God that they did," he told CBS News anchor Katie Couric.
For Vallie Collins, the most terrifying moment came when she was
caught in the back galley of the plane – water seeping in from exits
that would open only a crack, and dozens of passengers bearing down on
her, frantic to get out.
"Trying as hard as we could to push both of those doors," Collins
said, recounting the moments after Flight 1549 touched down on the
Hudson River on Thursday. "And the flight attendant said: `We probably
only have two minutes."’
Just seconds before, Collins had been convinced she would die on
impact. Now, with the frigid river water swirling around her waist and
seat cushions floating between the passengers, she believed she was
going to drown.
But there was daylight ahead, toward the front of the plane, and
Collins, a 37-year-old mother of three from Maryville, Tennessee, drew
on her memories of being a high school cheerleader.
"I put my hands up and said: "You can’t get out this way. … Go to
the wings! Keep moving, people! We’re going to make it. Stay calm."
It was only when she was safe aboard a rescue ferry that she felt
her panic – and gratitude. "We were just very fortunate. Very blessed,"
That sentiment was echoed by a number of passengers on the US
Airways flight, amazed to be alive after the jet ditched in the water
following an apparent collision with a flock of birds.
"You’ve got to give it to the pilot," said Jeff Kolodjay of Norwalk, Conn. "He made a hell of a landing."
By CBS News’ calculations, the plane hit the water by about 150 miles an hour.
"It is remarkable that it did little damage to the aircraft, it did not break the fuselage," said CBS News correspondent Bob Orr, who is an aviation expert.
The latest photos from the crash of Flight 1549(Photo: AP)
Soon after the plane took off from LaGuardia Airport for Charlotte,
North Carolina, Collins – seated in the last row, in 26D – heard a boom
and started smelling smoke. When the captain came over the loudspeaker
and said "brace for impact," she immediately reached for her phone.
"I thought, `OK, I’m not going to see my husband and three children
again.’ And I just want them to know at this point, they were the No. 1
thought in my mind," she said hours after the ordeal.
She sent them a text message: "My plane is crashing." There was no
time for the final three words she wanted to include: "I love you."
Kolodjay, 31, who had been headed to a golfing trip in Myrtle
Beach, South Carolina, said he noticed a jolt and felt the plane drop.
He looked out the left side of the jet and saw one of the engines on
"Then the captain said, `Brace for impact because we’re going down,"’ Kolodjay said. "It was intense." He said some passengers started praying. He said a few Hail Marys.
"It was bad, man," Kolodjay said. But he and others spoke of a
sense of calm and purpose that quickly descended on the passengers and
crew as the plane started filling with water and rescue boats swarmed
to the scene. They decided women and children would be evacuated first.
"Then the rest of us got out," he said.
One woman had two small children who couldn’t swim. She held on to
the infant, and Collins, aboard an emergency raft, grabbed hold of the
older girl, who was not yet 3.
"She was so scared. She had a little blue blanket, and she just was
hunkered in my lap," Collins said. "She just kept biting on my left arm
– she never said a word." The group was pulled aboard a rescue vessel.
Emergency medical service worker Helen Rodriguez was one of the
first rescuers on the scene. She saw stunned, soaking passengers,
saying "I can’t believe I’m alive." The worst injury she saw was a
woman with two broken legs.
Paramedics treated at least 78 patients, many for hypothermia, bruises and other minor injuries, fire officials said.
Police scuba divers arrived at the scene to see a woman in her late
30s or early 40s in the water, hanging onto the side of a ferry boat.
She was "frightened out of her mind," suffering from hypothermia
and unable to climb out of the water, said Detective Robert Rodriguez
of the New York Police Department.
The detectives swam with her to another ferry and hoisted her
aboard. As they were wrapping that up, another woman, who was on a
rescue raft, fell off. So they put her on a Coast Guard boat.
About 70 passengers were taken to the New Jersey side of the river.
Some looked "smiling and happy to be alive." Others were "a little
stunned," said Jeff Welz, director of public safety for the city of
Weehawken. "I’m looking at them and saying, `I don’t know if I’d look
good if I went through what they went through."’
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